Skip to main content
Site search

Artificial vs. natural sweeteners: The inside scoop on sugar substitutes

teaspoon of sugar overflowing
Artificial vs. natural sweeteners: The inside scoop on sugar substitutes


After realizing sugar isn't as sweet in our bodies as it is on our tongue, many of us transitioned from "one lump or two?" to "blue packet or yellow?" We're talking sugar substitutes, or sweeteners used in place of sugar. When they first appeared on the market sugar substitutes felt like the solution to our not-so-sweet dilemma. But then we began to ponder: what are they? And should we be choosing sugar, artificial sweeteners or natural sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners

The term "artificial sweetener" refers to a substance that has been chemically made to mimic sugar. The more commonly known sugar substitutes fall into this category: aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet'N Low) and sucralose (Splenda). These are zero calorie sweeteners and are many times sweeter than table sugar. Artificial sweeteners are found in many "sugar free" products like soda. These sweeteners are also used in lower calorie desserts and other foods—take Splenda for example.

Natural sweeteners

"Natural sweeteners" include honey, agave nectar, maple syrup and other forms of sugar that are favored for being more natural or unprocessed than table sugar. These natural sweeteners are still considered added sugars, and many of them still undergo some form of processing before appearing on the shelf. Natural sweeteners and table sugar are both broken down into glucose and fructose during digestion, meaning there is no scientific evidence that the form of sugar found in natural sweeteners is any better than table sugar.

What about stevia?

Stevia is derived from a plant, but it is more similar to artificial sweeteners than commonly thought. The stevia that appears on supermarket shelves is purified, highly processed and, many times, cut with fillers or other sugar substitutes. Stevia extract is used in many low calorie beverages and food items and is sold for home use.

The bottom line

So which sweetener should we be choosing—sugar, artificial sweeteners or natural sweeteners? Many get so caught up in this question that they miss the point. Ideally, the majority of your foods and beverages should not contain added sweeteners of any kind. Sugar and natural sweeteners provide our bodies with calories that are either used as energy or stored as fat. Artificial sweeteners do not provide calories and are either broken down into a number of compounds, or not broken down at all.

Here's the bottom line: While all of these options are safe to consume in moderation, most of your diet should consist of foods with no added sweeteners—foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, dairy and water.

Related articles
How to get more Vitamin C
How to get more vitamin C

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient, meaning your body doesn’t produce enough and needs adequate amounts through the food you eat.
Do juice cleanses really work
Do juice cleanses really work?

It's true that you’re likely to lose weight on a juice cleanse, but this is simply because you’re consuming fewer calories.
fruit and parfait
Fruit and yogurt parfaits

Makes 4 servings Ingredients 3 cups vanilla non-fat Greek yogurt 1 cup fresh or defrosted frozen strawberries 1 pint fresh blackberries, raspberries or blueberries 1 cup granola or nuts Preparation
fresh ideas for fruit
Fresh ideas for fruit

Traditionally fruit is eaten plain or doused in sugar and butter and served as a dessert; however, fruit can be used in a wide range of recipes.

1900 South Ave.
La Crosse, WI 54601

(608) 782-7300

Language Support:
Jump back to top