Whether it’s in your desserts, coffee, or favorite diet sodas, it’s easy to get caught up in the artificial sweetener craze. For years, sugar has been seen as enemy No. 1 when it comes to your health — many juices and smoothies and dried fruits even have more sugar than a can of cola. It’s no surprise most Americans are watching their sugar intake and doing everything they can to cut back.
Here’s a breakdown of the most harmful and least harmful artificial sweeteners, so you can determine what’s best for you and your diet.
Splenda, the most common product made from sucralose, was introduced to the U.S. in 1999 and has since been one of the most popular artificial sweeteners on the market. Sucralose is actually derived from real sugar as well, and through many steps of chemical processing, it can taste anywhere from 400 to 700 times sweeter than sugar, according to Authority Nutrition. And, unlike other sweeteners, it does not have a bitter aftertaste, giving it the illusion that you’re consuming real sugar.
While sucralose may not be the most harmful substitute that you can eat, it certainly has the potential for multiple health drawbacks if you’re not used to its consumption.
Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
Aspartame is another one of the most popular sugar substitutes out on the market today. Despite its popularity, aspartame is actually responsible for over 75% of negative reactions associated with food additives that are reported to the FDA, says Mercola. While some of these reactions are mild and can include dizziness, headache, fatigue, and nausea, some reactions are quite serious and can include seizures, depression, anxiety attacks, and heart palpitations.
As a sugar substitute, aspartame is highly controversial — some studies have shown that its consumption can trigger severe negative reactions, while other studies show that this information is inconclusive.
Saccharin (Sweet’n Low)
Saccharin, otherwise known as Sweet’n Low, is known as the first artificial sweetener, and like other sweeteners, the FDA has studied it time and time again. Saccharin is about 300 times sweeter than sugar and is most commonly found in soft drinks, chewing gums, fruit juices, and toothpaste. Livestrong.com explains an early study found that saccharin was linked to bladder cancer in the ’70s, but this link was only based on trials done on rats and not on humans. When human trials were performed, there was no conclusive link to cancer, however.
Currently, saccharin is known as a safer sugar alternative with less controversy and uncertainty than aspartame or sucralose.
While you won’t be purchasing sugar alcohols to put in your morning coffee or bake into your low-calorie baked goods, they are a form of sugar replacement that are common in “sugar-free” candies, cookies, chewing gums, and sodas. Built Lean explains sugar alcohols are chemically a mix between a sugar molecule and an alcohol molecule. While their structure resembles sugar, they are not metabolized or digested the same way, and thus they don’t raise insulin levels when ingested and are generally safe for diabetics to consume.
There are many different sugar alcohols present in low-calorie and and sugar-free treats, and overall, the consumption of this product is safe.
Stevia is unlike the rest of these sweeteners in that is derived from the stevia plant. The Huffington Post explains this species is grown in Brazil and Paraguay, and the plant’s sweetness comes from glycosides, which are naturally occurring and extracted from the leaves. While Truvia is the most popular brand of sweetener that contains the stevia extracts, it also contains the sugar alcohol erythritol.
While there have been concerns about whether stevia can increase the risk of cancer or reproductive issues, there is no evidence to support these claims. If anything, there is some evidence to support that stevia can actually improve high blood pressure and possibly treat diabetes, but this is also inconclusive. So far, stevia is known as a safe sugar alternative that might just be the perfect fit for those trying to lessen their sugar intake.