Sugar Substitutes

Young men's version of this guide
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artificial sweetenersSugar substitutes are substances used to sweeten foods and beverages instead of sucrose (sugar). You’ll find a variety of foods on the market that contain sugar substitutes; some advertise this fact but for others you need to look closely at the ingredient list. Some products that contain sugar substitutes are: diet soda, sugar-free syrup, gum, ice cream, fruit cups, yogurt, pudding, and more. There are different kinds of sugar substitutes that include artificial sweeteners, stevia, and sugar alcohols. There are some benefits to using sugar substitutes.

Benefits of sugar substitutes:

  • Have few or no calories
  • Do not cause your blood sugar to go up as much as regular sugar does
  • Do not cause tooth decay or cavities

What are artificial sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners are chemicals that are generally much sweeter than sugar, so a smaller amount of them is needed to have the same sweetness as sugar. They typically provide very little to no calories and have no nutrients in them.

Examples of artificial sweeteners include:

  • Saccharin (Sweet’N Low®, SugarTwin®)
  • Acesulfame K (Sunett®, Sweet One®)
  • Sucralose (Splenda®)
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet®, Equal®)
Products containing aspartame have a warning label because they are NOT safe for use by people that have the hereditary disease Phenylketonuria (PKU). Pregnant women may be advised by their health care provider to avoid saccharin due to the unknown long-term effects.

What is stevia?

Stevia is the common name for sweeteners such as PureVia® and Truvia® that are found naturally in the stevia rebaudiana plant. Unlike other sugar substitutes, stevia originates from a plant rather than being a manmade chemical. However, chemicals are used in the processing of stevia. Stevia sweeteners provide zero calories and are one of the most recently approved sugar substitutes by the FDA. Stevia sweeteners can be found in packets and in a variety of drinks and foods. If you are trying to avoid sugar substitutes, it is important to note that stevia sweetened products may say “naturally sweetened” so it’s always a good idea to check out the ingredients, too!

What is monk fruit extract?

Monk fruit extract, or norbu, is the main ingredient in the sweeteners of Monk Fruit in the Raw® and Nectresse®. Monk fruit extract is made from the monk fruit, a fruit regional to Southeast Asia. The juices of this fruit are extremely sweet, so can be used in very small quantities to sweeten foods and beverages without adding calories. Monk fruit extract is made by taking the juices from the monk fruit plant by squeezing the liquid from the seeds and the pulp of the fruit. Just like stevia, products that say “naturally sweetened” may have monk fruit extract in them.

What are sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates found in plant products. In order to use sugar alcohols as a sweetener, they are altered in a laboratory environment to make them usable in sugar-free and reduced-sugar foods. They are usually 25-100% as sweet as sugar and they provide 1.5 – 3 calories/gram when compared to sugar (which provides 4 calories/gram). Sugar alcohols can cause gas and loose stools since they are not completely digested by the body. Therefore, foods that contain sugar alcohols include the label “excess consumption may have a laxative effect.” It is also important to note that sugar alcohols, despite their low calorie count, are still carbohydrates so can still have a small impact on blood sugar levels.

Sugar alcohols are used in anything from candy to gum to bakery goods and ice cream.

Examples of sugar alcohols include:

  • Sorbitol
  • Mannitol
  • Zylitol
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol
  • Erythritol

Are sugar substitutes safe?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider sugar substitutes to be “safe food additives.” The FDA has also set an “acceptable daily intake” (ADI) for each sweetener which is an amount they feel is safe to have each day. It is measured in milligrams per pound of body weight per day. These amounts, listed in the table below, are higher than the amount most people usually have in a day. Sugar substitutes have never been shown to increase the risk of other diseases. Even though they might not be bad for you, the most nutrient dense foods and drinks (such as fruits, vegetables, milk and water) don’t contain sugar substitutes.

SweetenerADI* In milligrams (mg) per pound (lb)Estimated ADI equivalent in packets of sweetener for a person weighing 150lbsAverage sweetness compared to sugar
Aspartame
(NutraSweet®, Equal®)
22.7 mg per lb97.4 packets220 times sweeter
Saccharin
(Sweet’N Low®, SugarTwin®)
2.3 mg per lb8.6 packets200-700 times sweeter
Acesulfame K
(Sunett®, Sweet One®)
6.8 mg per lb20.4 packets200 times sweeter
Sucralose
(Splenda®)
2.3 mg per lb68.2 packets600 times sweeter
Stevia
(Good & Sweet®, PureVia®, Truvia®)
Not yet establishedn/a200-300 times sweeter
Monk Fruit Extract
(Monk Fruit in the Raw® and Nectresse®)
Not yet establishedn/a100-250 times sweeter
*FDA-established acceptable daily intake (ADI) limit per pound of body weight
Information adapted from mayoclinic.com

Are there any other ways to make my food taste sweet (without adding sugar substitutes)?

There are other ways to make your foods more flavorful without adding sugar substitutes. Try adding spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon to yogurt, cooked cereals, cookies, or coffee. You can also experiment with flavors such as vanilla and cocoa powder in pudding and baked goods.

Sugar substitutes can be used as a safe alternative to sugar. It’s important that we use them in moderation and eat mostly foods without added sugar or sugar substitutes.