Sugar or artificial sweeteners? When people are arguing about which one is “healthier”.
Experts agree that these products are practically universal.
“Both simple sugar and artificial sweeteners are found side by side from the grocery store to the neighborhood cafe,” says Amy S. Margulies, a registered dietitian and board-certified health and wellness coach at Rebellis RD in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“Food brands use these attractive packets in everything from diet drinks to desserts, yogurt, chewing gum, baked goods and more.”
Aspartame defended by industry experts after cancer risk warning: ‘limited evidence’
“One would think that if they are being used everywhere, they should be fine,” he said.
As some recent headlines suggest, however, he said that may not be the case.
It’s time to clean things up around artificial sweeteners and sugar.
Is sugar or artificial sweeteners more dangerous to one’s health?
White Potato Vs. Sweet Potatoes: Nutrition and Health Experts Think Which is Better?
If you’re wondering about recommended daily limits for everyone, as well as alternative “better-for-you” sweeteners and more – read on.
What is sugar?
Also known as sucrose, regular sugar is a natural sweetener derived from sugar cane or sugar beets, said Trista Best, a Georgia-based registered dietitian with Balance One Supplements.
Popular artificial sweetener, erythritol, may increase risk of heart attack and stroke: Study
“It provides four calories per gram and has a high glycemic index, meaning it can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar,” he said, adding that the American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men per day.
What are artificial sweeteners?
“Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, are low-calorie or zero-calorie sugar substitutes,” Best said, noting that they are often used as sugar substitutes for their intense sweetness without the added calories.
“Specific nutritional details vary depending on the type of artificial sweetener,” he said.
In general, they provide little or no calories and have negligible effects on blood sugar levels, he said.
As Margulies highlights in the nutrition facts below for Focus News Digital, there are some differences in calories and sugar content between regular sugar and artificial sweeteners.
1 packet of sugar = 10 calories, 3 grams of carbohydrates (or sugar); Limit intake to 2-3 packets per day.
There are currently no “recommended daily intakes” for artificial sweeteners.
1 packet of Splenda = 2 calories, .5 grams of carbohydrates
1 packet of Equivalent = 4 calories, .9 grams of carbohydrate
1 packet of Troya = 1 calorie, 3 grams of carbohydrate
According to the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of aspartame is 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (equivalent to 9 cans of 12-ounce diet soda per day for a 150-pound person).
Brown Rice Vs. White Rice: Nutritionists End Great Food Debate
However, the Food and Drug Administration offers a higher ADI at 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.
“Artificial sweeteners are low in calories, but for a packet or two of regular sugar, we’re not talking about an extraordinary amount of calories,” Margulies said of the calorie difference between sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Sugar or artificial sweeteners: Is one ‘bad’ for your health?
The answer is nuanced.
As Best noted, determining exactly which is worse—regular sugar or artificial sweeteners—is difficult, as it depends on individual factors and consumption patterns.
“Regular sugar, when consumed in excess, can increase the risk of weight gain, tooth decay and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease,” Best said.
Honey as a sugar substitute? New study points to health benefits
“Artificial sweeteners, on the other hand, have been extensively studied and deemed safe for use by regulatory authorities,” he continued.
He noted that there are still concerns about potential adverse effects, such as gastrointestinal problems and the impact on gut microbiota, that have been linked to high consumption of some artificial sweeteners.
Some studies show that sucralose can stimulate appetite, cut the good bacteria in the GI system in half, increase inflammation in the body and potentially lead to obesity and diabetes, Margulies said.
He said more research is needed to fully validate these claims.
Margulies said the early research isn’t very conclusive, though, “the reason you use Splenda is to avoid or manage them in the first place.”
Best said the choice between regular sugar and artificial sweeteners should be based on individual preferences, health goals and moderation in consumption.
Biodegradable sucralose, a chemical in Splenda, causes ‘significant health effects’ in new study
“It’s important to note that relying on artificial sweeteners as a substitute for a balanced diet can hinder the development of healthy eating habits,” warns Best.
Adherence to smart consumption guidelines
In general, the more you limit sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and artificial sweeteners, the better for your health, experts say.
Since one packet of sugar contains 10 calories and three grams of carbohydrates (that’s three grams of sugar), for example, Margulies said “it’s not really a big deal if you only consume one packet.”
Sugar substitutes may interfere with the liver’s ability to detoxify, researchers say
If you have more than one cup of sugary drink, two packets is a good limit — or skip it altogether and start reducing your desired sweetness level, Margulies advises.
“It takes some time, but it’s worth the effort,” he added.
On the other hand, artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) and sucralose are low in calories, Margulies said.
Yet if you’re watching your calories, you still see no reason to indulge, because “they haven’t been proven to help with weight management.”
“What they have proven so far after an extensive review is how they can be more harmful to your health than 20 extra calories of regular sugar,” she added.
The decision is yet to be made on which is the worst. Findings on artificial sweeteners range from “safe in all conditions” to “unsafe in any diet,” Margulies said.
Increased cancer risk linked to artificial sweeteners, study says
last week, World Health Organization (WHO) released its official statement on the potential health risks of aspartame, with a committee classifying the non-sugar, low-calorie sweetener as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
But many industry experts believe aspartame is safe to consume — including the FDA, which issued a statement denying the cancer risk.
“FDA disagrees with IARC’s conclusion that these studies support classification of aspartame as a probable human carcinogen,” the statement said. (The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization.)
‘Healthy’ types of sweets to consume in moderation
If you’re looking for what would be considered a more nutritious alternative, honey, maple syrup and more are worth considering, Margulies said — and as always, use them in moderation.
“What these sweeteners offer over white sugar are more intense flavors. That means a little can go a long way.” Adding just a touch of natural sweetener won’t have a big impact on blood sugar levels, he said.
According to nutritionists, these are the worst drinks for your health
Plus, Margulies said, they’re “natural” — so they don’t come wrapped in the potential and alleged dangers associated with artificial sweeteners.
Here are the nutritional details of some common natural sweeteners, as shared by Margulies.
Natural Sweeteners: What’s the Story?
Honey: 6 grams of carbohydrates; 21 calories
Agave: 5 grams of carbohydrates; 21 calories
Maple syrup: 4 grams carbohydrate; 17 calories
Date syrup: 5 grams of carbohydrates; 20 calories
Heart-Healthy Foods: 15 Things to Add to Your Grocery List to Prevent Heart Disease, Other Health Concerns
Acung Margulies, Best noted that there are healthy sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and agave nectar “that provide additional nutrients compared to regular sugar.”
However, Best said, they still contain calories and should be consumed sparingly.
As for stevia — which Best says is “a natural, zero-calorie sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebodiana plant” — it won’t affect blood sugar and is safe to use.
“Because we are cautious about using artificial sweeteners, pure stevia extract is safe to add to a balanced diet that includes whole, natural foods as part of your healthy lifestyle,” Margulies points out.
Click here to sign up for our lifestyle newsletter.
Still, Margulies said, “don’t expect it to help with weight management.”
There is also monk fruit. “It’s calorie-free and doesn’t affect blood sugar levels,” Best said.
It is considered another “natural” sweetener.
Click here to get the Fox News app.
Bottom line, she said: “It’s important to note that excessive consumption of any sweetener, natural or artificial, should be avoided.”