by NatureBox Health Writer Jenilee Matz, MPH
The pink, blue, yellow, or white packet – which sweetener is best? The variety of sweetener options is seemingly endless. From calorie-free sweeteners to “natural” sweeteners to tried-and-true table sugar, it’s tricky knowing what option is healthiest.
Sweeteners can be bundled into two groups: artificial and natural. Note that manufacturers may call refined products “natural” if they are simply derived from sugar. This is the case for stevia, for instance.
Artificial sweeteners that are approved by the FDA include:
- Acesulfame potassium
The FDA says using these sweeteners in moderation is safe and studies have shown that it’s OK to eat in small quantities.
Natural sweeteners (keep in mind that these natural options may still be processed):
- Maple syrup
- Agave nectar
- Grape juice concentrate
- Date sugar
Some people reach for artificial sweeteners because
- Some studies show artificial sweeteners can harm your health. Drinking one artificially sweetened beverage per day may raise your risk for diabetes.
- Artificial sweeteners may make you crave more sugar. Since artificial sweeteners taste like sugar, they keep the craving for sweets alive in your body.
- Sugar-free does not equal healthy. Artificial sweeteners have zero nutritional value.
- Artificial sweeteners don’t cancel out the effects of other foods. You may add sucralose to your morning coffee, but know that muffin you eat along with it is packed with sugar.
Other people see natural sweeteners as a healthier alternative to table sugar. But the truth is that most natural sweeteners are nutritionally similar to sugar and still end up in your body as sugar. There really is no benefit to choosing honey over table sugar, unless your taste buds prefer it or if your preference is to consume fewer processed ingredients.
The Bottom Line
When used sparingly, natural sugar and good old-fashioned table sugar can be part of a healthy diet. Just be sure to limit the amount of added sugars in your diet to 10 to 12 teaspoons per day. Added sugars are also found in many processed foods, like granola bars and sports drinks.
If you do choose to use artificial sweeteners, it’s still important to eat a nutritious diet rich in whole, fresh foods.
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Jenilee Matz, MPH is a medical writer, health educator, and runner based in Charlotte, NC