With the bad wrap sugar receives, many people turn to artificial sweeteners to get that sweet taste they crave.  They come in all sorts of forms to make it easy to bake with them, add the into coffee and tea, and carry in your handbag.  Artificial sweeteners can be found in diet soft drinks, diet yoghurts, chewing gum, powdered shake products including some protein powders and some vitamin supplements.



They are categorised into two groups - nutritive sweeteners that provide energy to the body and non-nutritive sweeteners that are not digested and provide no energy.  Sucrose (table sugar) and Xylitol are examples of nutritive sweeteners and aspartame is a non-nutritive sweetener.

But are they good for you?  Below are some of the most common sweeteners and a bit of an explanation of what they are, how your body handles them and how to identify them in your food.


Sucrose, lactose, maltose, fructose and galactose are all considered nutritive sweeteners in that they contain energy but bear in mind that energy equals calories!  This is the exact reason people try to find alternatives, often they are trying to lose weight or are diabetic and either way they are trying to avoid the calories.

Food labels will often avoid mentioning the word "sugar" on the ingredient index and will disguise it as any of the above nutritive sweeteners, so always check the overall energy of  a product.  When checking the label bear in mind that energy equals calorie content and it shouldn't take much for you to work out whether it is high in sugar or not.


Sucrose is derived from sugar cane and sugar beets.  Corn syrup contains between 40 and 90 percent fructose and the natural cornstarch is first treated with acid and enzymes to change the starch into glucose and then into fructose.  Corn syrup is cheaper than sugar and just as sweet, and has the advantage of not crystalizing when frozen, making it ideal for use in soft drinks, candies, jams, jellies and desserts. 

Brown sugar is basically just white sugar with some molasses added (molasses is burnt sugar cane)

Honey has little nutritional value other than energy and is purely the product of bee enzymes breaking down plant nectar, changing it's structure from natural sucrosw into fructose and glucose.

True maple syrup is made by boiling down and concentrating the sap running down from sugar maple syrup trees, and is very expensive, which is why most maple syrups found on the supermarket shelves aren't in fact true maple syrup but merely an imitation.

Agave comes from the Agave plant, mostly the blue agave, and is the same plant used to make tequila.  The Aztecs used this nectar mixed with salt to put on skin infections, where as we have it with salt on the the side with the tequila!~  The "honey water" obtained from the core of the plant is then processed to form a syrup or fermented to make tequila.  The processed syrup tastes similar to caramel and has the consistency of maple syrup and is a popular sweetener in energy drinks and teas.  Table sugar has about 40 calories per tablespoon whereas Agave has about 60 calories per tablespoon.  Although it does contain small amounts of calcium, magnesium and potassium they are not enough to be of any nutritional benefit.


Turbinado sugar is made from sugar cane juice that has been heated and crystalized befoew spinning it down in a centrifuge to eliminate some of the natural molasses coating.  In refined whitew sugar all this molasses coating is removed.

Xylitol is extracted from plants such as fibrous fruits, birch tree and corn cobs and has 40% less calories than sugar.  Sorbitol 420, Mannitol 421 and Xylitol 967 are considered nutritive sweeteners and have a slower absorption rate than other sugars.  They do however affect blood glucose levels, but not the "spike" that results from refined sugar and have some contribution, however slight, to energy levels.  The bacteria in the mouth is not able to easily metabolize these sweeteners which explains their common use in mouth fresheners.  They do however, tend to have a laxative effect if consumed in large amounts, as they tend to stay in the intestine unabsorbed.


Aspartame - 951

This artificial sweetener is 200 times sweeter than table sugar and goes by the brand names Equal and Nutrasweet.  It is the most commonly used sweetener in diet soft drinks, in some diet yoghurts and in some brands of chewing gums.  Aspartame is a simple chemical compound consisting of two amino acids (the building blocks of protein) - phenylalanine and aspartic acid - and a methyl group.  During metabolism, your body breaks down aspartame and absorbs the two free amino acids and then the methyl group breaks down into methanol and then into formaldehyde (both very toxic substances).  The free amino acids aren't in the form they're found in in nature, and your body doesn't quite recognise them.  This causes a host of health implications in itself and is known to cause problems in the nervous system resulting in symptoms such as headache, rashes, insomnia, anxiety attacks, tinnitus and joint pain.  Aspartame is one of the most heavily researched artificial sweeteners, and there is definately evidence to suggest it should be avoided - like the plague.

Saccharin - 954

This sweetener has been in use for over 100 years in the United States.  Saccharin was the subject of research in the 1970's where lab rats were fed a tonne of the stuff.  They developed bladder cancer and as such foods containing Saccharin were forced to carry a label stating the sweetener was a health hazard, but the manufacturers disputed the facts saying that no human would ever ingest these same large quantities.  Since the year 2000 this label is no longer required.  Saccharin is found in many diet soft drinks, chewing gums, confectionary and baking products.


Sucralose - 955

The common brand name for sucralose is Splenda and it is about 600 times sweeter than sugar.  Sucralose is actually made from sugar but it is altered so that three of its hydroxyl groups are replaced with chlorine atoms.  This makes the substance much sweeter than sugar - but as the body now does not recognise the molecule as sugar it does not try to use it for energy.  The scary thing about sucralose is that it lacks any real research.  Sucralose is found in jams, jellies, gelatin, pudding, sweet sauces and toppings.


This is a South American plant, Stevia rebaudiana, that has been used for centuries as a natural sweetener.  The leaves of the plant contain glycosides which are responsible for its sweetness.  Stevia is 25-30 times sweeter than table sugar yet contains virtually no calories (with the refined extracts being considered totally calorie-free).  Stevia does not affect your blood sugar the way table sugar des and it is marketed as the "natural" sugar alternative.

Easy Identification of Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial Sweeteners are given a number and this is what is often recorded on food labels and ingredient lists.  Below is a table of numbers to look out for.

  • Number  Name
  • 420     Sorbitol
  • 421     Mannitol
  • 422     Glycerol
  • 950     Acesulfame potassium (k)
  • 951     Aspartame
  • 952     Cyclamate
  • 953     Isomalt
  • 954     Saccharin
  • 955     Sucralose
  • 956     Alitame
  • 957     Thaumatin
  • 959     Neohesperidine dihhydrochalcone
  • 962     Aspartame-acesulfame salt
  • 965     Maltitol
  • 966    Lactitol
  • 967     Xylitol
  • 968     Erythritol

  • Well, I don't know about you, but after reading all this you have got to ask yourself is "natural" better?  Sugar is brain food - you can't live without some sugar in your diet.  In fact, if you don't have any sugar in your diet, you will get light headed, giddy and can't think straight.  The worst thing you can do when dieting is to drink low calorie soft-drinks that are as you see up to 600 times sweeter than soft-drinks containing sugar.  When your taste buds get hit with this much sweetness, even though it contains no calories, it will make you hungry.  So, you might consume less calories in the soft drink that you drank, but you will have many more calories in the food that you will eat, as a result of your increased appetite!!  You do get some natural sugars from the breakdown of complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.  Therefore, the better option surely, is to increase intake of these foods as the source of the natural sugar requirements your body needs.



Date posted: 2013-10-23 | posted by: debras

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