Jul 17, 2023
Regular sugar vs. artificial sweetener: Is one worse for you than another? Experts chime in
Fox News correspondent Kevin Corke has the story on ‘Fox News @ Night.’ Sugar or artificial sweeteners? This may become quite the head scratcher when people are debating which of these is "healthier."
Fox News correspondent Kevin Corke has the story on ‘Fox News @ Night.’
Sugar or artificial sweeteners? This may become quite the head scratcher when people are debating which of these is "healthier."
Experts do agree, though, that these products are virtually omnipresent.
"Both regular sugar and artificial sweeteners are found side-by-side from the grocery store to the neighborhood café," said Amy S. Margulies, a registered dietitian and board-certified health and wellness coach at the Rebellious RD in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
"Food brands use these tempting 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 if they are being used everywhere, they must be OK," she said.
As some recent headlines indicate, however, this may not be the case, she said.
Sugar or artifical sweetener? As the debate rages, nutritionists weigh in on the possible risks connected to sweetener options. (iStock)
It’s time to clear up some things around artificial sweeteners and sugar.
Is sugar or artifical sweeteners more dangerous to one's health?
WHITE POTATOES VS. SWEET POTATOES: NUTRITION AND HEALTH EXPERTS CHIME IN ON WHICH IS BETTER
If you're wondering about the recommended daily limit for each, as well as the alternative "better-for-you" sweeteners to consider and more — read on.
Regular sugar, sucrose, is a natural sweetener derived from sugar cane. (iStock)
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, COULD RAISE RISK OF HEART ATTACK AND STROKE: STUDY
"It provides four calories per gram and has a high glycemic index, meaning it can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels," she said, noting that The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men per day.
There are nutritional differences between regular sugar and artificial sweeteners, but the caloric difference may not be as great as people think. (iStock)
"Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, are low-calorie or zero-calorie sugar substitutes," said Best, noting that they're often used as alternatives to sugar for their intense sweetness without the added calories.
"The specific nutrition specs vary depending on the type of artificial sweetener," she said.
Generally, they provide minimal or even no calories and have negligible effects on blood sugar levels, she said.
As Margulies highlighted for Fox News Digital in the nutrition specs below, there are some differences in calories and sugar content between regular sugar and artificial sweeteners.
1 packet of sugar = 10 calories, 3 grams of carbohydrate (or sugar); limit intake to 2–3 packets per day
There are currently no "daily serving recommendations" for artificial sweeteners.
1 packet of Splenda = 2 calories, .5 grams of carbohydrate
1 packet of Equal = 4 calories, .9 grams of carbohydrate
1 packet of Truvia = 1 calorie, 3 grams of carbohydrate
The acceptable daily intake (ADI) of aspartame remains 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (equivalent to 9 cans of 12-ounce diet soda per day for a 150-pound person), according to the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).
BROWN RICE VS. WHITE RICE: NUTRITIONISTS SETTLE THE GREAT FOOD DEBATE
However, the Food and Drug Administration offers a higher ADI, at 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.
"Artificial sweeteners are lower in calories, but for one or two packets of regular sugar, we are not talking about an extraordinary amount of calories," said Margulies of the calorie differences between sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners are often used because of "their intense sweetness without the added calories," one registered dietitian told Fox News Digital. (iStock)
The answer is nuanced.
As Best noted, definitively determining 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 contribute to weight gain, tooth decay and an increased risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease," said Best.
HONEY AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO SUGAR? NEW STUDY INDICATES THE HEALTH BENEFITS
"Artificial sweeteners, on the other hand, have been extensively studied and deemed safe for consumption by regulatory authorities," she continued.
There have been concerns still about potential adverse effects, such as gastrointestinal issues and an impact on gut microbiota, associated with high intakes of certain artificial sweeteners, she noted.
There are health concerns that come with the intake of both regular sugar and artificial sweeteners, such as weight gain, tooth decay and gastrointestinal issues. Experts recommend moderation. (iStock)
Some studies show that sucralose may stimulate the appetite, reduce the GI system's good bacteria in half, increase inflammation in the body and possibly lead to obesity and diabetes, said Margulies.
Yet more research is needed to fully validate these claims, she said.
The initial research isn’t too reassuring, though, since "your reason for consuming Splenda is to avoid or manage all of that in the first place," said Margulies.
The choice between regular sugar and artificial sweeteners should be based on individual preferences, health goals and moderation in consumption, said Best.
BYPRODUCT OF SUCRALOSE, A CHEMICAL IN SPLENDA, FOUND TO CAUSE '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," Best cautioned.
"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," one expert told Fox News Digital. (iStock)
In general, the more you limit sugar-sweetened food and beverages and artificial sweeteners, the better for your health, said experts.
Since a packet of sugar is 10 calories and three grams of carbohydrates (which is three grams of sugar), "it is really not a big deal if you use just one packet" in a drink, for example, said Margulies.
SUGAR SUBSTITUTES MAY INTERFERE WITH LIVER’S ABILITY TO DETOXIFY, RESEARCHERS SAY
If you’re having more than one cup of a beverage with sugar, two packets is a good limit — or skip it altogether and start to lower your level of sweetness desired, Margulies suggested.
"It takes some time, but it is worth the effort," she added.
Artifical sweeteners such as aspartame are commonly used by those looking for a low-calorie sweetener option — but this is not proven to help weight management, said one expert. (iStock)
On the flip side, artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) and sucralose are lower in calories, said Margulies.
Yet if you’re watching your calories, that still doesn’t give you a reason to indulge, as "they have not been proven to actually help with weight management."
She added, "What they have proven thus far following an extensive review is how they may be more damaging to your health than 20 extra calories of regular sugar."
The verdict is still out on which is worse. Conclusions about artificial sweeteners range from "safe under all conditions" to "unsafe at any dose," said Margulies.
INCREASED CANCER RISK ASSOCIATED WITH ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS, STUDY SAYS
Last week, the 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 "possibly carcinogenic to humans."
But many industry experts maintain that aspartame is safe for consumption — including the FDA, which released a statement refuting the cancer risk.
"The FDA disagrees with IARC’s conclusion that these studies support classifying aspartame as a possible carcinogen to humans," the statement read. (The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization.)
Artifical sweeteners, extensively researched, have only proven to possibly "be more damaging to your health than 20 extra calories of regular sugar," a registered dietician and health and wellness coach told Fox News Digital. (iStock)
If you’re looking for what would be considered more nutritious alternatives, sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and more are worth considering, said Margulies — and as always, use them in moderation.
"What these sweeteners offer over white sugar is more intense flavors. This 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, she said.
THESE ARE THE WORST DRINKS FOR YOUR HEALTH, ACCORDING TO NUTRITIONISTS
Plus, said Margulies, they are "natural" — so they do not come wrapped in potential and alleged risks associated with artificial sweeteners.
There are a variety of other "natural" sweetener options, including honey, agave, maple syrup and date syrup. (iStock)
Here are the nutrition specs of a few common natural sweeteners, as shared by Margulies.
Honey: 6 grams carbs; 21 calories
Agave: 5 grams carbs; 21 calories
Maple syrup: 4 grams carbs; 17 calories
Date syrup: 5 grams carbs; 20 calories
HEART-HEALTHY FOODS: 15 ITEMS TO ADD TO YOUR GROCERY LIST TO PREVENT HEART DISEASE, OTHER HEALTH CONCERNS
Echoing Margulies, Best noted that there are healthier types of sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and agave nectar "that provide additional nutrients compared to regular sugar."
Stevia, another sweetening option that has risen in popularity, is a zero-calorie sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia rebaudiana plant. (iStock)
However, said Best, they still contain calories and should be used sparingly.
As for stevia — which Best said is a "natural, zero-calorie sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia rebaudiana plant" — it won't impact blood sugar and is safe to consume.
Said Margulies on that point, "As we remain cautious with our use of artificial sweeteners, pure stevia extract is safe to include in a balanced diet that includes whole, natural foods, as part of your healthy lifestyle."
CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR OUR LIFESTYLE NEWSLETTER
Still, said Margulies, "do not expect it to help with weight management."
Bottom line: "It's important to note that excessive consumption of any sweetener, natural or artificial, should be avoided," said one expert. (iStock)
There is also monk fruit. "It is calorie-free and does not affect blood sugar levels," said Best.
It’s 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."
Perri Ormont Blumberg is a contributing lifestyle reporter for Fox News Digital.
Fun stories about food, relationships, the great outdoors and more.
You've successfully subscribed to this newsletter!PublishedASPARTAME DEFENDED BY INDUSTRY EXPERTS AFTER CANCER RISK WARNING: 'LIMITED EVIDENCE'WHITE POTATOES VS. SWEET POTATOES: NUTRITION AND HEALTH EXPERTS CHIME IN ON WHICH IS BETTERWhat is sugar?POPULAR ARTIFICIAL SWEETENER, ERYTHRITOL, COULD RAISE RISK OF HEART ATTACK AND STROKE: STUDYWhat are artificial sweeteners?SugarArtificial sweetenersBROWN RICE VS. WHITE RICE: NUTRITIONISTS SETTLE THE GREAT FOOD DEBATESugar or artificial sweeteners: Is one 'worse' for your health?HONEY AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO SUGAR? NEW STUDY INDICATES THE HEALTH BENEFITSBYPRODUCT OF SUCRALOSE, A CHEMICAL IN SPLENDA, FOUND TO CAUSE 'SIGNIFICANT HEALTH EFFECTS' IN NEW STUDYSmart consumption guidelines to followSUGAR SUBSTITUTES MAY INTERFERE WITH LIVER’S ABILITY TO DETOXIFY, RESEARCHERS SAYINCREASED CANCER RISK ASSOCIATED WITH ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS, STUDY SAYS'Healthier' types of sweeteners to use in moderationTHESE ARE THE WORST DRINKS FOR YOUR HEALTH, ACCORDING TO NUTRITIONISTSHEART-HEALTHY FOODS: 15 ITEMS TO ADD TO YOUR GROCERY LIST TO PREVENT HEART DISEASE, OTHER HEALTH CONCERNSCLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR OUR LIFESTYLE NEWSLETTERCLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP