If you’re a smart consumer who stays on top of the latest health recommendations, you’ve probably noticed that sugar guidelines have gotten confusing. On the one hand, experts suggest that we decrease consumption of added sugars to reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. But on the other hand, media headlines have raised concerns about the use of sugar alternatives. No one wants to give up sweets entirely. So, what’s a healthy eater to do?
Rest assured, most of us can keep sweet indulgences in our diets. But to stay healthy, it’s important to understand a few basic facts about sugar, low-calorie sweeteners, and no-calorie sweeteners. We’ve partnered with SPLENDA® Sweeteners to separate evidence-based facts from media fiction and offer simple steps to live healthier.
Sugar vs. Artificial Sweeteners: The Name Game
If sugar was always called “sugar”, then eating healthy might be easier. But the fact is that food manufacturers use many different terms to describe sugar and sugar alternatives. Understanding the lingo is a smart first step to healthy eating.
Most of us are familiar with table sugar or sucrose. It’s the sweetener that fills your sugar bowl or that you might add to your morning coffee. But there are many other forms of sugar and different names to describe it. Honey, corn sweetener, beet sugar, corn syrup solids, rice syrup, and agave nectar are just a few of the many different words that you might see listed as ingredients in your favorite foods. Each of these ingredients is a form of sugar. Confused? You’re not alone. Many healthy eaters struggle to find hidden sugars in their food because manufacturers use unfamiliar terms.
When we see colorful packets on the table in a restaurant, we often refer to them as artificial sweeteners. But the term “artificial” isn’t always accurate.
Then, there are different names for sugar alternatives. Many of us use the term “artificial sweetener” to describe any sweetener that isn’t table sugar. When we see colorful packets on the table in a restaurant, we often refer to them as artificial sweeteners. But the term “artificial” isn’t always accurate. Many no-calorie and low-calorie sweeteners are made with natural—not artificial— ingredients. An example would be a low-calorie sweetener made with stevia leaf extract. Consumers have many good options when it comes to sugar alternatives. It's up to you to choose the product that works best based on your needs and your personal taste preferences.
Food scientists and health experts use the terms “nutritive sweetener” and “non-nutritive sweetener (NNS)” to refer to sugar and sugar-like products. Sweeteners that have sugar, like table sugar or honey, are called nutritive sweeteners.
Nonnutritive sweeteners—also called no-calorie sweeteners or sugar substitutes– contain less than five calories per serving. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also allows these products to be called zero-calorie sweeteners.
Now that you know about the different types of sweeteners and the various scientific terms used to describe them, you can tackle the most common myths about sweet stuff.
5 Common Myths About Sweeteners Debunked
Myth #1: “To stay healthy, I should avoid sweets, like candy, baked goods, sweetened sodas and other treats.”
Do you love decadent desserts and other sugary goodies? Sweet treats like cookies and cake make us happy and that’s a good thing! It’s both normal and healthy to get pleasure from food. But, like most indulgences, treats with sugar should be consumed in moderation. For most of us that means cutting back. Thankfully, there are simple tips and tricks you can use to reduce your added sugar intake so that it is in line with recommended guidelines.
When you bake, replace one cup of sugar (773 calories) with 1/2 cup of SPLENDA® Sugar Blend to cut your sugar calories in half.
For example, when you bake, replace one cup of sugar (773 calories) with 1/2 cup of SPLENDA® Sugar Blend to cut your sugar calories in half. Or fill the sugar bowl with SPLENDA® Naturals Stevia Sweetener to eliminate the sugar calories that you add to food throughout the day. Each time you replace two teaspoons of sugar with SPLENDA® Naturals Stevia Sweetener, you save 32 calories.
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six (6) teaspoons of added sugar per day or about 100 calories. Men should consume no more than nine (9) teaspoons per day or about 150 calories. If you balance your eating for good health with eating for enjoyment you can reach this goal.
Try to be mindful when you’re hungry about the types of food that will satisfy you. If you want something sweet, grab a piece of whole fruit. If fruit isn’t going to cut it, watch the portion size of your treat and plan for it in your day. Simple strategies applied throughout your day make your food choices lower in fat, lower in added sugar, and better for your body.
Myth #2: “All artificial sweeteners are the same, so it doesn’t really matter which one I use.”
There are many different types of FDA-approved non-nutritive sweeteners and several different brands from which to choose. For example, you may have heard of products made from aspartame or saccharin. Sucralose is made from a modified form of sugar. And other zero calorie sweeteners are extracted from the natural stevia leaf.
Since different products provide different tastes and different benefits, it’s smart to choose a product based on your taste preferences and on your desired use to enjoy a more satisfying food experience.
For example, the texture of your sweetener can make a big difference. Bakers might use a brown sugar blend (combined brown sugar and sugar substitute) to get the same browning, rising, texture, moistness and molasses-like flavor that they expect from traditional brown sugar with only half the calories and carbs. Coffee drinkers might prefer a liquid no-calorie sweetener. And if you like to sprinkle a natural sweetener on your oatmeal, a table top jar of non-nutritive sweetener makes a convenient choice.
Myth #3: “Organic and natural sweeteners like honey, raw cane sugar, brown sugar, or agave nectar are better for my body because they are pure and unprocessed.”
Added sugars with natural sounding names contribute to the same health problems caused by processed sugar. Surprised? You’re not alone. Many of us choose products sweetened with ingredients like agave syrup or raw cane sugar assuming that they are more wholesome. But overconsuming any added sugar—even those with healthy sounding names—increases your risk for dental decay and other health problems including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases and other conditions.
If natural ingredients are a priority for you, consider a low-calorie sweetener made from stevia. There are some great options out there that have zero calories with no artificial flavors or ingredients. If you’re concerned about bitterness, look for a stevia sweetener that is made from Reb D rather than Reb A to avoid the aftertaste.
Myth #4: “Science has shown that artificial sweeteners cause weight gain.”
Numerous studies have determined that no-calorie sweeteners do not increase appetite, food intake or weight gain. In fact, the vast majority of scientific literature confirms the benefits and safety of using low-calorie sweeteners and products for weight control and weight loss.
Still confused? Research regarding weight gain and food choices is very complex and often leads to contradictory and confusing headlines in the media. But well-respected health organizations do that hard work of sifting through scientific studies, so you don’t have to. The American Heart Association and The American Diabetes Association released a joint scientific statement regarding the use of zero-calorie sweeteners. In short, they said that the use of non-nutritive sweeteners can help you to reduce your intake of added sugar and calories thereby helping you to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
Non-nutritive sweeteners can help you to reduce your intake of added sugar and calories thereby helping you to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
Many successful dieters have found that using artificial sweeteners can help with calorie reduction from sugar while maintaining good taste. However, no-calorie sweeteners (and products that contain them) are not a magic bullet. They should be considered tools, which can be incorporated into an overall healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and a balanced diet.
Myth #5: “Artificial sweeteners cause cancer”
Remember that by law in the United States, non-nutritive sweeteners must be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration and deemed safe before they can be included in any food or beverage. Leading regulatory and health agencies have extensively reviewed the scientific literature on FDA-approved, no-calorie sweeteners and concluded that they are not associated with negative health effects, including cancer.
There is no proof that these sweeteners, at the levels consumed in human diets, cause cancer.
The American Cancer Society has stated, “There is no proof that these sweeteners, at the levels consumed in human diets, cause cancer. Aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose are a few of the non-nutritive sweeteners approved for use by the FDA. Current evidence does not show a link between these compounds and increased cancer risk.”
Additionally, health experts at the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics continue to release statements to support the use and the safety of non-nutritive sweeteners as part of a healthy diet.
The Best Way to Enjoy Sweets and Stay Healthy
We can all take small steps to reduce our intake of added sugar and boost our health. Reducing your intake of sweet treats is one way to cut back. But you can also make simple swaps throughout the day to meet recommended guidelines. Replace sugar with a zero-calorie sweetener in your morning cup of tea, sprinkle a natural no-calorie sugar substitute on your cereal, or use a sugar blend when you bake. Make smart choices (will click out to Curated Collection) so you can continue to enjoy the foods you love, while taking simple steps to cut calories and reduce your sugar intake so you can live healthier.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Get the Facts: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Consumption Updated: April 7, 2017
Magnuson, Bernadene A., Ashley Roberts, and Earle R. Nestmann. “Critical Review of the Current Literature on the Safety of Sucralose.” Food and Chemical Toxicology 106 (2017): 324–355.
National Institutes of Health. News in Health. How Sugars and Sweeteners Affect Your Health. October 2014
Sievenpiper, John L. et al. “The Importance of Study Design in the Assessment of Nonnutritive Sweeteners and Cardiometabolic Health.” Canadian Medical Association Journal 189.46 (2017): E1424–E1425.