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Geisinger becomes the first member of Risant Health

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

Not all artificial sweeteners are created equal. Learn about the differences and if you can benefit from using them.

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. 

Besides making things taste sweeter, sugar substitutes can help control blood glucose levels. 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.

Popular types include:

Acesulfame potassium

Also known as AceK, this synthetic sweetener is roughly 200 times sweeter than regular sugar. Because it’s so much sweeter, a little bit goes a long way. It’s sometimes sold under the brand names Sunett or Sweet One. 

Advantame

The newest high-intensity sweetener to hit the market, Advantame is made from vanillin and another common sweetener called aspartame. It doesn’t have sugar or carbs, which can make it a helpful addition if you’re watching either one. Use it the same way you’d use any sweetener. But be mindful of how much you use. Advantame is 20,000 times sweeter than its traditional counterpart.

Aspartame

Aspartame has been around for decades, sweetening products like diet soda, juices, candy and sauces. This popular sweetener is commonly sold under the brand names NutraSweet or Equal. It’s 200 times sweeter than sugar, so a little bit can go a long way. It has less calories than sugar, so keep that in mind before you use it, too.

Neotame

Neotame is aspartame’s much sweeter cousin (60 times sweeter). It has no calories or carbs. And you can use it the same way you would regular sugar. Find it on grocery shelves under the name Newtame.

Saccharin

The oldest member of the artificial sweeteners club, saccharin has been around for more than a hundred years. Sold under the brand Sweet’N Low, saccharin is up to 700 times sweeter than sugar. You might recognize its characteristic metallic aftertaste. Saccharin was banned in 1981 due to safety concerns over potential carcinogens. It hit store shelves again in 2000 after the ban was lifted.

Sucralose

Another popular replacement for sugar is sucralose, also sold as Splenda. Use this zero-calorie option to sweeten baked goods and beverages alike. But use it sparingly. It’s 600 times sweeter than traditional sugar.

Besides these, you can find other natural sugar alternatives, including:

Monk fruit

Also called luo han guo, this sweetener comes from plants. This calorie-free substitute gets its hallmark sweet taste from natural compounds. It’s a good alternative if you prefer a more natural option to sweeten things. Even better? Monk fruit is believed to be a good source of antioxidants.

Stevia

Another plant-based flavor enhancer, stevia is an all-natural sugar replacement option. It’s 100 to 300 times sweeter than the real thing, and you can find liquid and powder versions wherever you buy sugar.

Sugar alcohols

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

When in doubt? Use the color system

You’ve probably seen those different colored packets sitting on diner counters and store shelves. Since most sugar replacements look the same, correctly identifying which is which can be challenging. The color system takes the guesswork out of identifying your sweeteners. Look for these colors and never wonder which type of sweetener you’re using. 

  • White packets are filled with regular table sugar 
  • Yellow packets contain sucralose
  • Blue packets are filled with sweeteners containing aspartame 
  • Pink packs have saccharin
  • Green packages contain stevia
  • Brown packets contain raw sugar

Considerations when using them

Sugar substitutes may not be suitable for everyone. Before making a choice, 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
  • Monk fruit

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: 

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Plant more fruits and veggies in your diet
See our dietitian-approved recipes

 
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