All you need to know about sugar substitutes


August 15, 2018

All you need to know about sugar substitutes |

Sugar, particularly the refined type, also called white sugar has been labelled as the bad guy for many decades. It has been blamed for obesity, diabetes, hyperactivity in children and so many things. While some of these things have been disproven, it is still true that excess intake of sugar is harmful to the body.

What are sugar substitutes?

Sugar substitutes or replacers are compounds, whether naturally occurring or artificial, that can be used in place of sugar for cooking, baking, and in manufacturing foods and drinks. They can also be found in toothpaste and mouthwashes, cereals, medication, yoghurt, chewing gum. That is the reason those products can be sweet even though they are free from sugar.

They can be naturally occurring or artificial:

Naturally occurring

These are mainly gotten from plant sources. The fact is that agave nectar, coconut sugar, banana puree, molasses, treacle, maple syrup, dried fruits and others are sugar substitutes, mostly with added nutrients but that are much higher in calories than sugar.

The following are some natural low caloric sweeteners:


Stevia, PureVia, TruVia and other brands contain rebiana from the leaves of the stevia plant. It is up to 150 times as sweet as sugar. It is great for drinks but has a slightly bitter after-taste. They have all come under safety concerns but have no calories at all and do not promote sugar spikes. This is probably why it is popular among many diets, including the ketogenic (keto) diet.

Monk fruit

This sugar substitute from Asia is up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar but does not contain calories. It is not as well researched so no serious safety concerns have been raised yet.

Sugar alcohols

Examples are xyitol, sorbitol, mannitol, lactitol, maltitol, glycerol, and erythritol. They are derived from fruits and berries. While they do not contain alcohol, they have about 3 calories per teaspoon. The good news is that only about half of this can be broken down by the body or even the bacteria in the mouth.

It is for this latter reason, plus its ability to stimulate salivary flow, that chewing gum containing any of these sweeteners can help prevent tooth decay. Unfortunately, none of them is as sweet as sugar itself and they can cause diarrhoea when consumed in large amounts.

Artificial sweeteners:

They are often used in their pure forms during manufacturing processes but are mixed with starch-based compounds in preparations for household use.

Here are the main artificial sweeteners:

Acesulfame potassium (Ace K) and aspartame

These are found in many sugar-free drinks and in the beverage sweetener, canderel. They are both about 200 times sweeter than sugar itself. While Ace K does not appear to have any safety concerns, aspartame has been suspect in obesity, impaired brain function and even cancer. Also, aspartame is not to be taken by people who suffer from phenylketonuria.

Sucralose (Splenda)

Even though it is derived from sucrose itself, sucralose is 600 times sweeter and has no calories. It has no bitter aftertaste and has been found out to be majorly safe and heat-stable.

Saccharin (Sweet n low)

Found in, saccharin was the foremost artificial sweetener and became quite popular until around the 70s and 80s, when lab studies in rats linked it to cancers. It has not been found to cause cancer in humans but many people are still wary of it. It is about 200-700 times sweeter than sugar and contains less than 5 calories per teaspoon, so it is categorised as having zero calories. It has a characteristic bitter aftertaste but is safer for cooking and baking, unlike aspartame and sucralose. 

Newer approved non-calorific artificial sweeteners include aspartame derivatives:

Neotame, up to 12,000 times sweeter than sugar and Advantame (from the Japanese food company, Ajinomoto) at a whopping 20,000!

Final word

When the consumption of added sugar needs to be reduced, there are some concerns and possible long-term effects that artificial sweeteners may have. It may also be one of the reasons your diet may not be working. As always, moderation is key; even in getting your sweet tooth satisfied!

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