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Not all artificial sweeteners are created equal.

By Angela Esherick and Jill Fabri, certified diabetes educators at Geisinger

Look on any grocery store shelf, and you’ll find more sugar substitutes than you could imagine — in kitchen staples like baked goods, diet soda, frozen desserts, canned fruit and snack foods. Before you stock your pantry, a little research can help you find the right sweetener for your needs.

What are artificial sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners are food additives used to replace sugar. They sweeten food without adding extra sugar, calories or carbohydrates.

Popular types include:

  • Acesulfame potassium
  • Advantame
  • Aspartame
  • Neotame
  • Saccharin
  • Sucralose
  • Monk fruit (Also called luo han guo)
  • Stevia

Sugar alcohols (such as erythritol, sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol) are another common artificial sweetener. These do contain calories and carbs, but they have less than regular sugar.

Besides making things taste sweeter, sugar substitutes can help control blood glucose levels and boost weight loss. They’re also popular with people following low-carb diets. And, because they don’t contain actual sugar, using them won’t cause tooth decay. But like sugar, they’re best used in moderation.

Considerations when using them

Sugar substitutes may not be suitable for everyone. Before using them, consider the potential side effects of artificial sweeteners.

Cardiovascular risks

Some studies suggest that certain sugar alternatives, especially erythritol, may increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. More research is needed.

Increased appetite

For some people, using sugar substitutes may increase their cravings for sweets. They can also alter the way you feel hunger. And impact how your body manages blood sugar. Together, those things can lead to weight gain.

Stomach upset

For some people, sugar alcohols, stevia and monk fruit may cause bloating, gas and diarrhea. Studies are also looking at a possible link between artificial sweeteners and gut health.

Get back to basics

Don’t want to use an artificial sweetener? Try these natural versions instead. You may even have a few of them in your kitchen.

  • Real fruit jam
  • Banana puree
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Pure maple syrup
  • Date sugar/paste
  • Raw honey
  • Coconut sugar
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Agave nectar

Weigh your options

Before you switch from traditional sugar to a sugar substitute, talk with your healthcare provider. They can help you understand if using them is right for you. Or they can recommend other options to help sweeten the deal.

Next steps: 

Vitamin C: It’s for more than just immune health
Plant more fruits and veggies in your diet
See how your body changes when you stop drinking soda