Sugar Alternatives and Your Health

Here's what you need to know about artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes

(RxWiki News) Who doesn't love a sweet taste? Almost everyone loves how sugar tastes, but not everyone loves the health effects of sugar in excess.

That's why food scientists and companies have developed so many alternatives to traditional sugar.

But are these sugar substitutes safe and always better than sugar? That's what we explore below. Keep reading.

Why Limit Sugar?

First, why should people consider limiting their sugar intake in the first place? Sugar isn't always bad, but eating too much sugar can have negative health effects.

Sugar comes in various forms, but sugar added to processed foods tends to be the worst for health in general, leading to the risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular problems and other health effects.

Meanwhile, sugar occurs naturally in foods like fruits and, in smaller quantities, vegetables. This sugar can still have all of the same effects as processed sugar, but it typically comes alongside fiber, vitamins, minerals and various other substances found in fruits and vegetables, making it somewhat healthier to consume.

In general, however, the average eater should consider strategies to limit sugar to a reasonable degree. And one way to do that without sacrificing sweet flavors is with sugar substitutes.

Types of Sugar Substitutes

There are a few ways to sweeten food without using traditional sugar. These sugar substitutes vary widely in their composition and effects. Here's what you need to know.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are free of calories and sugar, but they pack a sweet punch. They're typically developed in laboratory settings and made from chemicals.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates artificial sweeteners and has approved the following for use in food:

  • Aspartame
  • Sucralose
  • Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K)
  • Advantame
  • Saccharin
  • Neotame

Some health experts have raised concerns that these artificial sweeteners could lead to a wide variety of negative health effects, ranging from weight gain to cancer. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, there is no scientific evidence that confirms these concerns when artificial sweeteners are consumed in reasonable amounts.

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols can occur naturally in fruits or be created in a lab. In either case, they are sweet but contain no actual sugar and very few calories.

While sugar alcohols are generally considered safe, they can lead to stomach distress when consumed in relatively large amounts.

Examples of sugar alcohols used in food and chewing gum include the following:

  • Erythritol
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol
Novel Sweeteners

While artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols tend to be heavily processed, novel sweeteners are more on the natural side. These sweeteners are usually derived from plant-based sources, but they contain many of the same properties of other sugar substitutes: They are low in calories and contain no actual sugar, but they pack a sweet flavor.

Examples of novel sweeteners used in food include the following:

  • Stevia
  • Allulose
  • Monk fruit
  • Tagatose

How to Keep Your Diet Sweet and Healthy

Everyone has different dietary requirements. While sugar is generally something you should only consume in moderation, it's important to speak to your health care provider about your unique dietary needs. Never make any significant change in your diet without first speaking to a qualified health care professional.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 21, 2022