You aren’t alone if you’re confused as to whether artificial sweeteners or real sugar is better for your health. Although excess consumption of either isn’t good, most humans have a sweet tooth — aren’t you supposed to use it?

Is it possible to have your cake and eat it, too, without unduly damaging your health? Examining what the most recent scientific data reveals empowers you to make informed choices.

Types Of Artificial Sweeteners

There are scores of artificial sweeteners on the market today. Some of the most frequently used include:

  • Splenda or sucralose
  • Sweet and Low, primarily made from saccharin
  • Equal, which consists of aspartame, acesulfame potassium and maltodextrin
  • Truvia, which is the natural substance Stevia mixed with erythritol
  • Nutrasweet, which is pure aspartame.

The FDA has deemed all of these substances safe, although evidence exists suggesting potential health risks. Here’s what recent data reveals about some of the most popular artificial sweetener ingredients.

1. Sucralose

One study in rats found that sucralose was associated with higher body weight, increased disease, higher levels of inflammatory markers and elevated serum D-lactic acid, a rare form that can build up in your bloodstream instead of flushing out as usual. Another 2023 study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health found sucralose can break down your DNA, creating health risks.

2. Saccharin

Long-term use of this sweetener may increase abdominal fat levels. Other studies have linked high saccharin doses to bladder cancer.

3. Aspartame

The aspartame in many diet colas is linked to higher intestinal fat levels. Additionally, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the WHO, classifies aspartame as possibly carcinogenic.

4. Erythritol

This sugar alcohol popular in chewing gum can cause intestinal distress, and recent 2023 research suggests it increases the risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease.

Many people turn to artificial sweeteners for weight loss. However, the weight gain in many who use them regularly raises questions. Is something in the substance itself packing on the pounds, or is it other compensatory behaviors — “I had a diet coke, so I deserve this candy bar?” The answers remain uncertain.

How Are Artificial Sweeteners Made?

Artificial sweeteners are produced from various chemicals in a laboratory. They may also contain natural substances.

Natural Sugar — the Demon It’s Made Out To Be? 

Humans have a natural sweet tooth, which drives them to consume various fruits. Furthermore, some people consider honey a superfood because of its high antioxidant level and ability to help multiple health woes, like coughs.

Clearly, human beings crave sweets for a reason, but they’re tougher to come by in the wild. Earlier in evolutionary history, this necessarily restricted consumption to rare occasions. Nowadays, you can pick up a veritable jar of liquid sugar or even a can of spaghetti sauce containing several day’s worth of the sweet stuff on any grocer’s shelf. The problem is sugar’s convenience — and how much manufacturers add to foods in sneaky ways.

“Code Words” For Added Sugar In Foods 

It’s not always easy to find sugar on food labels. However, the following ingredients indicate the manufacturer added in plenty of sweet stuff: 

  • Words ending in -ose, such as sucrose or dextrose
  • Agave nectar
  • Barley malt
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maple syrup
  • Rice syrup
  • Sorghum syrup

Excess sugar consumption spurs weight gain and may trigger insulin resistance or Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes significantly increases cardiovascular and kidney disease risk. It also feeds the unhealthy bacteria in your mouth, spurring cavities. Learning to identify added sugars on food labels is one step to regulating your intake. You can also reduce sugar consumption by taking these additional steps: 

  • Eliminate sugary drinks, swapping soda and fruit juice for water or tea.
  • Skip the added sugar in foods, cut down on what you use in baking and avoid dumping it in your coffee or tea.
  • Swap your sugary desserts, such as cake, for a lower-sugar option like fruit, dark chocolate or yogurt.

Artificial Sweeteners vs. Natural Sweeteners Besides Sugar 

Two natural sweeteners besides sugar exist. However, you must read labels, as some manufacturers mix these substances with other artificial ones — look for pure versions.

1. Stevia 

Stevia comes from the Stevia rebaudiana plant and is 100-300 times sweeter than sugar. Although some users report an aftertaste, it’s usually from using brands mixed with artificial ingredients.

2. Monk Fruit

Monk fruit is also known as “Luo Han Guo” and comes from the Siraitia grosvenorii tree. Although the fruit begins to rot soon after picking, its extracts are approximately 250 times sweeter than sugar. Additionally, you can find powdered monk fruit for baking.

While preliminary research suggests both may be safer than the alternatives, they’re also more expensive.

Questions To Ask When Choosing Between Artificial Sweeteners And Real Sugar

Both real sugar and artificial sweeteners have health risks. However, you know you. If you prefer indulging your sweet tooth, ask yourself the following questions when deciding which to use.

1. What Is My Diabetes Risk? 

If your last A1C test puts you in the danger zone, reducing sugar consumption takes priority.

2. How Much Do I Typically Consume?

An occasional slice of cake is nothing compared to guzzling eight sodas daily.

3. How Does This Affect My Total Calorie Intake? 

Avoid using artificial sweeteners as an excuse to consume more calories elsewhere to avoid unwanted weight gain.

4. What Is the Healthiest Choice I Can Make in These Circumstances? 

Sugar and artificial sweeteners are ubiquitous in our culture. Can you have just a sip or a bite or two if no healthier alternative exists at the moment?

Artificial Sweeteners vs. Real Sugar 

It seems so unfair that something that tastes so good is bad for you. However, both artificial sweeteners and sugars carry health risks. Use this guide to inform your choices when the dessert tray rolls around.

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