Sugar Substitutes: The Sweet Differences

Any sweetener you use to replace table sugar is a sugar substitute. One type of sugar substitute is artificial sweetener. Three other types are natural sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and novel sweeteners.

Choosing between sugar substitutes can be mind-boggling. It is difficult to distinguish what is labeled “natural” from those substances that are actually part of nature’s own commissary.

To become wise and healthy consumers and eaters, we need to know the categories and vocabulary of sugar substitutes that are listed on our food labels or bought for cooking and baking at home.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial or synthetic sweeteners are often suggested as a sugar alternative for diabetics because they are not a carbohydrate and generally do not increase blood sugar levels. The FDA, National Cancer Institute, and various other health agencies consider the use of artificial sweeteners to be safe.


There are still many health professionals who warn against using artificial sweeteners. Some are concerned that, though they contain no calories, they ultimately lead to weight gain. Each of us needs to weigh the benefits against the risks and make our own best sweetener choice.

Types of Artificial Sweeteners

  • Saccharin: Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin
  • Sucralose: Splenda
  • Aspartame: NutraSweet, Equal (breaks down during cooking or baking)
  • Acesulfame potassium: Sunett, Sweet One

Artificial sweeteners have no calories, so they provide no energy. They are found in many processed and canned foods, soft drinks, candy, dairy, and baked goods. Because they are sweeter than sugar and a little goes a long way, recipe adjustments need to be made if they are used for cooking or baking.

Natural Sweeteners

The FDA recognizes natural sweeteners as being GRAS, or generally recognized as safe for consumption. Natural sugars are sometimes listed as added sugars since they are frequently added to foods during processing. They can be used in cooking and baking although agave nectar, according to several websites, is tricky to use in baked goods.


Natural sweeteners do not have appreciably different nutritional value than sucrose (table sugar) although there is plenty of digital data available about why natural sweeteners are healthier. One thing to remember is that adding too much of any type of sugar to your diet can cause health problems such as weight gain and tooth decay.

Types of Natural Sweeteners

  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Date sugar
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Agave nectar

The Sugar Alcohols

You will see sugar alcohols listed on food labels as xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, isomalt, lactitol, erythritol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysate. The FDA regulates their use as they do artificial sweeteners and considers them GRAS.

Sugar alcohols can be manufactured but are also naturally occurring in some veggies and fruits. They are less sweet than table sugar and are non-alcoholic as they contain no ethanol. No one gets a buzz from consuming sugar alcohols. They have a laxative effect on some individuals (bloating, gas, diarrhea).


Sugar alcohols are a carbohydrate with fewer calories than regular sugar. They can raise your glucose level but not as much as does table sugar.

These sweeteners are not generally used for home cooking but are found in a plethora of processed goods, candies, baked goods, toothpaste, and mouthwash. Besides adding sweetness, sugar alcohols help food remain moist, and provide a cooling sensation in some products such as chewing gum.

The Novel Sweeteners

Novel sweeteners are produced by mother nature but sold in refined or processed forms.

Types of Novel Sweeteners

  • Stevia (extracts): Truvia, Pure Via
  • Tagatose (similar to fructose): Naturlose

The sweet stevia plant is not approved for use as a sweetener by the FDA. However, the FDA has approved highly processed stevia for sweetening. Unrefined stevia powder and cruder extracts are available at some whole and health food stores. Another novel sweetener, tagatose, is naturally occurring but also produced from dairy lactose.

Source: Mayo Clinic
Photo: Pixabay


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