Artificial Sweeteners vs. Natural Sweeteners
Sugar substitutes are a tempting way to add sweetness to foods and drinks without the extra calories or carbohydrates. That’s good news for your waistline and watching your blood sugar levels. But how do artificial sweeteners and natural sweeteners compare? Is one better than the other? Let’s take a look at some of the most popular sweeteners to see how they measure up.
Monk Fruit is named after the 13th century Buddhist monks who first discovered the sweet properties of this gourd-like fruit. It originates from Southeast Asia, Thailand, and China and is said to be 150-200 times sweeter than sugar. This is due to a component of the plant called mogrosides, which also contain antioxidant qualities.1
Monk fruit is considered a safe alternative to sugar and is FDA approved in the U.S. since 2009. Available in granules, powder, and liquid, this natural sweetener is derived from the juice of the fruit and sold in its natural state with no additives.
Stevia comes from the Stevia rebaudiana plant found in South America and is a member of the chrysanthemum family. (People with Asteraceae allergies, take note). Steviol glycosides are responsible for the sweetness in the leaves of this plant, which are said to be 200 to 400 times sweeter than regular sugar.2
Centuries ago, stevia leaves would be infused with boiling water and enjoyed as a hot beverage, but the benefits or side effects of using raw stevia in this way are not known. In the U.S., a highly purified form of stevia is used and sold as steviol glycosides rebaudioside A or stevioside. Manufacturers often add other sugars to their stevia products to make it more palatable and to tone down the sweetness, so always make sure to read the list of ingredients before purchasing.
Xylitol is a naturally-occurring plant source derived from fibrous fruit and vegetable matter known as sugar alcohol. Other sugar alcohols include sorbitol, lactitol, mannitol, erythritol, and maltitol. Xylitol is widely used in dental products and chewing gum for its dental health benefits. It is also low in carbohydrates, contains little-to-no fructose, and has been shown to benefit both bone and skin health.3
Artificial sweeteners or non-nutritive sweeteners like saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose are manufactured in a laboratory. Many are derivatives of sugar, like sucralose. They are considered a safe way to reduce added sugars to your diet, and are approved by the U.S. FDA.
However, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association advise that moderation is key. The potential long-term side effects of artificial sweeteners are not yet known and how they affect the brain is not clearly understood.4
Some researchers believe sweeteners can lead to an intolerance of naturally sweetened foods and an increasing dislike of savory foods. In addition, there’s a general false-belief that saving on calories with artificial sweeteners means you can enjoy extra cheat foods. The bottom line is, limited use of artificial sweeteners is advised.5
When choosing a sweetener, your decision will be determined by taste, price, use, and the product’s total list of ingredients. Some may contain additional sugars and not be suitable for diabetic or calorie-reduced diets.
More and more people are opting for natural sweeteners over artificial sweeteners for health reasons. In either case, moderate use is always recommended.
- Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Nov 22; 113(47): DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1604828113
- Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2010 Feb;61(1):1-10. DOI: 10.3109/09637480903193049
- The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 128, Issue 10, October 1998, Pages 1811–1814, DOI: 10.1093/jn/128.10.1811
- Circulation. 2012 Jul 9; 126:509–519. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0b013e31825c42ee
- Harvard Health Blog: Artificial Sweeteners, 2018 Jan 8.
- Blog Contributor