Artificial Sweeteners vs. Sugar
Artificial Sweetener Cover Photo

What you should know about artificial sweeteners and whether natural sugars are a healthier alternative.

Artificial Sweeteners and Added Sugars

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes. They are found in a variety of food products such as beverages, baked goods, protein powders, granola bars, candy, and more. Artificial sweeteners can be up to a thousand times sweeter than sugar; however, your body cannot break them down to be absorbed, so they contain no calories.

There are 4 artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA for human consumption: 

  • Acesulfame potassium (e.g. Sunnet, Sweet One)
  • Aspartame (e.g. Nutrasweet, Equal)
  • Sucralose (e.g. Splenda)
  • Saccharin (e.g. Sweet ‘N Low, Sugar Twin, Sweet Twin)

Artificial Sweeteners in Your Daily Life

Ever wondered what food products contain artificial sweeteners? They can be found in many food products, including condiments, candy, protein bars, soda, etc. 

Food labels will usually contain catchy phrases like “zero added sugar” or “0g added sugar”, but you can look at the ingredient list to find out if sweeteners have been added. You’ll see artificial sweeteners listed in their raw form rather than their common brand name (for example: sucralose, not Splenda).

Does aspartame make anxiety worse?

Consider yourself an anxious person? You might want to think twice when it comes to aspartame. Aspartame can impact mental health, especially when it comes to the balance of our feel-good hormones, dopamine, and serotonin.

Do sweeteners affect gut health and digestion?

Gut bacteria are essential for our overall health; they help produce vitamins and are involved in supporting our immune system, digestion, and weight management. There is also a strong connection between our gut bacteria and mental health.

Artificial sweeteners can alter both the number and type of gut bacteria. Aspartame has been linked with changes in gut bacteria that could lead to insulin resistance. Some people also notice that sugar alcohols like erythritol and xylitol cause digestive upset. If this is the case for you, they should be avoided.

Do they affect my appetite?

Artificial sweeteners may actually increase your appetite! Because these sweeteners do not contain any calories, they can confuse the brain into thinking you need to consume more food in order to get the energy you need.

Natural Sugars and Sweeteners 

Are natural sugars a healthier alternative?

Natural sugars like honey or coconut sugar are minimally processed and refined. As a result, these sugars can be a healthier alternative to white sugar, brown sugar, and corn syrup. 

Is stevia a healthier sweetener alternative? 

It can be. Stevia is a plant that falls into the natural sweetener category. It contains no calories and is about 200 times sweeter than white sugar.

Avoid packaged stevia that is often combined with other sweeteners like maltodextrin, erythritol, and dextrose. These sweeteners can contain some carbohydrates, so consuming large amounts of stevia throughout the day may still impact blood sugar levels. 

Weight Loss, Sugar Cravings, and Artificial Sweeteners

The truth is these beautifully marketed ‘zero calorie’ options may be impacting your weight loss efforts. Sugar substitutes were previously thought to have no impact on blood sugar and insulin levels, but this is no longer the case. Sugar alcohols such as mannitol and sorbitol can increase blood sugar levels. 

Do artificial sweeteners increase sugar cravings? 

Yes! Artificial sweeteners activate the same ‘feel good’ pathways in the brain without registering the associated caloric intake. This can cause us to crave more sweets, and choose sweets over nutrients, which will ultimately lead to weight gain. 

Sweeteners and Your Health

What you’ll want to remember is that natural sugars that are minimally processed and refined can be a healthier alternative but keep in mind, even natural sugars will have an impact on your blood sugar levels. Enjoy them in moderation. 

Include this chart from the guide:

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