How To Choose The Right Non-Sugar Sweetener

How To Choose The Right Non-Sugar Sweetener

Non-sugar sweeteners have come out of the woodwork in recent years, creating a lot of confusion: which is which, and are any of them healthy? Here's your quick launch guide to finding out what's really going on.

1. Sweet One or Sunett (Acesulfame potassium)

This non-nutritive artificial sweetener found in soft drinks, desserts, gum and gelatins. Pre-market animal testing indicated a potential cancer link, without definitive results. It was first FDA approved in 1988, so there's now a generation-long record of use with no substantial problems noted. It appears to be safe in moderation.

2. Agave nectar

This natural product of the agave cactus that has a similar taste and texture to honey, and is used as a natural non-sugar sweetener in yogurts, tea, breakfast bars and cereals. Agave nectar contains more fructose than sugar, which means it is less prone to spike your blood sugar levels. It contains the same calories as honey but is sweeter, meaning less is typically needed.

3. Equal or NutraSweet (Aspartame)

This is one of the original artificial sweeteners introduced to the market, and also one of the most studied and controversial since its 1981 FDA approval. The World Health Organization and the American Dietetic Association say aspartame in moderation is fine, while the Center for Science in the Public Interest gave it the lowest ranking in their food additive review. It's not appropriate for use by people with phenylketonuria, an inherited genetic disorder.

4. High fructose corn syrup

This common sweetener has earned its share of headlines in recent years, and not many of them positive. You can find it in just about anything and manufacturers prefer it for its cheap price and long shelf life. Several notable studies conclude that HFCS contributes more to obesity than sugar, other studies (typically industry sponsored) claim it's no worse. Best to err on the side of caution and limit your consumption.

5. Honey

Honey is probably the ultimate non-sugar sweetener: it's 100% natural, contains trace vitamins and minerals, and typically does not provoke a dramatic blood sugar spike. But it's not exactly light on calories (21 per teaspoon), so if you are watching your weight you should also be limiting your honey intake. Not appropriate for very young children, due to the potential for a rare digestive illness to develop.

6. Truvia or Pure Via (Rebiana)

This product is derived from the stevia plant and is marketed as a natural zero-calorie alternative to artificial sweeteners. Stevia extracts must be refined to receive FDA approval, which Truvia and Pure Via are. UCLA researchers have linked rebiana to DNA damage in some of their studies, accordingly moderation is the best policy.

7. Sweet 'N Low (Saccharin)

This is one of the original artificial sweeteners and was stigmatized by initial studies that demonstrated a link to cancer in lab rats. Further studies demonstrated those results applied only to rats and saccharine was safe for human consumption. Warning label requirements were removed, however it remains on the “avoid” list from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

8. Splenda (Sucralose)

Since it's debut in 1998, splenda has proven to be one of the most well-reviewed artificial sweeteners on the market and today is found in fruit drinks, canned fruit and syrups. An initial study indicated potential impact on the immune system, but multiple follow-up studies have disproved that conclusion. Sucralose is not heat sensitive, which also makes it popular for baking. Don't go crazy with it, but there are no apparent problems.