So, what’s the Deal with All the “Sweeteners”?

By Suzanne Russell-Curtis, RD, CDE
Bulfinch Medical Group

Artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, natural sweeteners and plain old sugar — we hear about them all the time.  Natural is better than artificial. High fructose corn syrup is the cause of obesity. Sweeteners will save us all from weight gain, heart disease and diabetes. The list goes on and on. Well, here is the breakdown on the types of sweeteners and what you need to know about each.

Artificial Sweeteners: Sucralose (Splenda®), Aspartame (Equal®, Nutrasweet®),   Saccharine (Sweet n’ Low®).

  1. Do not affect blood sugar
  2. Zero calories
  3. Can be used in baking (not a direct substitution for sugar. Artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than regular sugar and they do not add bulk or volume to recipes. Read substitution suggestions carefully)

Sugar alcohols: Mannitol, Sorbitol, Xylitol

  1. Will increase blood sugars, however not to the extent of regular sugar
  2. Provide a small amount of calories
  3. Better alternative for baking, however not readily available to the general public.  Typically found in commercial baked goods, mouthwash, toothpaste and drinks
  4. Although named sugar “alcohols” they do not contain alcohol

Natural Sweeteners: Agave nectar, fruit juice concentrate, honey, maple syrup, and molasses

  1. Will increase blood sugar the same as sugar
  2. Will provide calories
  3. Widely used in baking. Each natural sweetener provides its own unique taste

Other Sweeteners: Stevia (Truvia®, Pure Via®)

  1. These sweeteners are combined with either sugar alcohols or forms of natural sugar. Do not assume your blood sugars will not rise when using these types of sweeteners. Depending on the serving size and product there may be a slight effect on blood sugars or none at all
  2. Zero Calories
  3. FDA labeled purified Stevia as “Generally Recognized as Safe” but has not approved crude Stevia or whole leaf Stevia as there are some health concerns

High fructose corn syrup:

  1. Will increase blood sugars the same as sugar                                                          **The make up of HFCS is the same as regular sugar (fructose and glucose). The only difference is cornstarch is highly processed to make the syrup. At this time there is no known difference on how the body reacts to HFCS.  More research is needed
  2. Will provide calories
  3. Widely added as a sweetener to any type of food

So those are the facts on sugar substitutes. It’s up to you if you want to use any of them, but please remember to use caution when choosing a food that is labeled “no sugar added” as these products may contain carbohydrates. An example would be “no sugar added” ice cream. Ice cream is made from milk –> milk is a carbohydrate –> carbohydrate turns into sugar –> blood sugar levels will rise.  The best way to determine the effects on your blood sugar is to read the food label!