Everyone knows that sugar is not a good part of a healthy diet. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the World Health Organization both recommend that added sugar be limited to no more than 10% of daily calories. Therefore, many people are turning to sugar substitutes in order to get their sweet tooth fulfilled, but, are these substitutes in reality better than sugar or are there more things hidden under the surface of these “healthier” alternatives than meets the eye?

Many of us think that just because the FDA has approved Artificial and Natural sweeteners, like all other ingredients added to food in the United States, that it must be safe for human consumption.  Let’s take a closer look at some of these substitutes and see which ones are better and which ones may be better to avoid. You, will see that it pays to be our own health advocate.

SUCRALOSE, sold under the name Splenda, is useful as a one to one substitute for sugar. Sucralose is made from sugar and is used to make Splenda which tastes like sugar. Sucralose has no calories but does not measure, look or act like sugar.

Sucralose is 600xs sweeter than sugar so much less is needed for the same sweetness. Sucralose is bulked up with maltodextrin, a carbohydrate derived from corn, giving it some calories and making it look and act like sugar. This combination makes Splenda.

Splenda has 1/8 to 1/4 the calories of sugar. We are told that all the sucralose consumed will be excreted unused but despite the manufactures claims, sucralose is absorbed and metabolized by the body.

Recent research indicates that consuming sucralose has a number of dangerous side effects, including its ability to: (1)
  • Potentially lead to diabetes.
  • Increase your risk of IBS and Crohn’s disease.
  • Possibly cause leaky gut.
  • Generate toxic and cancerous compounds when heated. (2)
  • Make you gain weight.

SUCROSE (table sugar) is made from sugar beets or sugar cane. Not only does sucrose taste good, but it also gives you quick energy as well.

However, the downside to this quick energy burst is that when it’s gone, your body wants another dose of sugar to keep the energy going. Taking in too much sucrose leads to excessive insulin responses, which causes the excess carbohydrates to be stored in your fat cells.

Because sucrose is a high-glycemic (rapid release) sugar, you should substitute other sweeteners.

Here are some other forms of sucrose to avoid when looking at labels: raw sugar, brown sugar, invert sugar, turbinado, confectioner’s sugar, cane sugar, crystallized cane juice.

ASPARTAME is made from two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine.  It is about 200xs sweeter than sugar and there is a lot of concern over the safety of this sweetener. Aspartame may be an important dietary trigger of headache in some people. (3) 

Aspartame is marketed under the names NutraSweet and equal and is found in a wide variety of prepared products. This sweetener is not useful for cooking or adding to hot beverages.

MALTITOL, like all sugar alcohols does not promote tooth decay and has a taste and sweetness like sugar. It does not raise blood sugar levels or insulin levels and is useful for diabetics. Like all sugar alcohols, maltitol can have a laxative effect in some people.

SACCHARINE has been around for almost 100 years and is 200xs sweeter than sugar. It is produced from a substance found in grapes. The human body cannot break it down, so it does not produce an insulin response. It is most commonly found in soft drinks and sweeteners like sweet n low. However, a recent 12-week trial found that consuming six cups per day of a saccharin-sweetened beverage increased body weight similar to a sugar-sweetened drink. 

SORBITOL is a sugar alcohol which is found in numerous products, especially those that need to become dry or hardened like candies or confectionaries. Sorbitol is often used in reduced calorie or light products. Sorbitol has been linked to IBS, excessive gas and diarrhea.

HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP is made from  GMO corn starch and has a high glycemic value which means it will cause a large insulin response. It’s made by converting the starches in corn to glucose (45%) and fructose (55%). There is some controversy over the safety of using large amounts of this sweetener over time, there appears to be a link to the onset of adult arthritis, as well as contribute to metabolic disorder. (4)  High fructose corn syrup is found in numerous products and is not the same as a product that contains fructose.

FRUCTOSE, also known as fruit sugar, is sweeter than table sugar and only 1/3 is needed as a sugar substitute. Fructose is low on the glycemic index (slow release sugar) and so it helps control insulin responses, keeping them low, which means it is good for diabetics.

DEXTROSE OR GLUCOSE (both or the same and both names are used interchangeably) has a higher glycemic value than table sugar and on most glycemic indexes, glucose is used to compare the value of other “foods” as glucose (which is actual blood sugar) has a faster release into your system than most any other sugar or food item which will result in a very sharp rise in your insulin levels. Diabetics should not use this sweetener. On labels it can also be called corn sugar.

LACTOSE, also known as milk sugar is about half way between sucrose and fructose on the glycemic index. It is made from whey and skim milk and is used largely by the pharmaceutical industry. Many people have a lactose intolerance.

HONEY, is an invert sugar formed by an enzyme from nectar.  Honey is composed mainly of water (17%) and two simple sugars, fructose (38%) and glucose (31%). Minor ingredients include various complex sugars, minerals, vitamins, and proteins.  It is also high on the glycemic index 61%, therefore should be avoided or used sparingly by diabetics. Some of these ingredients have antioxidant properties, but the amounts are so small that they may not affect health. A tablespoon of honey contains about 64 calories; in comparison, a level tablespoon of table sugar contains 45 calories.

As you can see, some sugars and substitutes can be fine to use in place of table sugar but certainly NOT all of them.

For diabetics or people trying to control their insulin for fat loss, careful consideration must be taken when using sweeteners or sweetened products.

As for the rest of us, well, still we need to be aware of what kind of sweeteners we consume as you cannot always rely on claims made by manufactures of some sweeteners or products which contain sweeteners regarding there safety or health benefits.

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