Ask Amelia Food Comparisons Nutrition Weight Loss

Artificial Sweeteners vs. Sugar: Which Is Best?

When you’re trying to cut back on calories, it’s tempting to replace some of the sugar-laden treats in your diet with artificially sweetened ones.  But whether this is a good idea or not is highly debated, as there are many kinds of alternative sweeteners, few of which have been researched extensively.  Below are the facts about some of the sweeteners on the market, so you can review them and make the decision that’s best for you.  If you want more advice, see my recommendations at the bottom!

Sugar Sucrose Natural substance from sugarcane or sugar beets Baked goods, flavored yogurt, ice cream, bottled dressings and sauces Nutritionally equivalent to brown sugar, honey; 16 calories per tsp
High Fructose Corn Syrup HFCS Very sweet liquid derived from cornstarch Soda, processed foods, condiments Just like sugar, may cause you to overeat b/c of effects on blood sugar and hunger-regulating hormones.
Agave Nectar Agave Syrup Sweet liquid extract from agave plant Bottled, in some “natural” baked goods & processed foods Sweeter than sugar, so when adding it to food you can use less to achieve the same taste
Sucralose Splenda Chemically altered sugar with no calories In “Less Sugar” cereals, baked goods, some sodas/drinks 600X sweeter than sugar; recognized as safe but no long-term studies have proven its safety
Aspartame Equal, Nutrasweet Synthetic sweetener with no calories Diet sodas, “light” yogurt and processed foods, diabetic candy, sugar-free gum Causes headaches in some people, research on whether it’s safe is mixed, not safe if you have phenylketonuria
Stevia Truvia, PureVia, Enliten, Rebiana Natural sweetener derived from leaf of stevia plant In packets, protein-shake mixes, some “natural” soft drinks Currently considered safe in small amounts, but no long-term studies have proven its safety. May cause gas or bloating.
Saccharin Sweet ‘N Low Synthetic sweetener with no calories In toothpaste, in packets, and Tab diet soda 300X sweeter than sugar. Has been linked to cancer in rats, research on relationship to cancer in humans is inconclusive.

So….now what?

My Recommendations

  • When you want a treat, eat a real one, sweetened with sugar or another regular old natural sweetener.  If you eat sweets occasionally and in moderate portions, the sugar won’t cause cavities or weight gain.
  • Avoid artificial (and zero-calorie “natural”) sweeteners most of the time.  Even if they end up being proven safe for long-term use, they may interfere with your body’s ability to judge whether it’s still hungry or not.  Plus, these sweeteners are only present in processed, packaged foods, which should be eaten occasionally anyway.
  • None of these sweeteners will kill you if eaten in small portions, according to the evidence we have today.  So if you aim to eat mostly real, nutritious foods that you make yourself, it probably won’t matter which of these you decide to ingest – if only once in a great while.


  • Julie
    March 12, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Are the recommendations any different for pregnant women? I had thought that the Zevia sodas (sweetened with Stevia) are “healthier” than good ol’ diet coke. It looks like I’m wrong?

  • Amelia
    March 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Aspartame is not recommended for pregnant women, and there’s no research yet on Stevia either way. Since Stevia is a natural sweetener, I’d say that its the better choice. But even better would be mixing sparkling water with some juice. When you’re pregnant you can afford the extra calories!

  • Hanna
    July 26, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Have you tried the natural sweetener, Natvia? It uses the purest part of Stevia and has no aspartame and saccharine. I just hope if you’ve tried, because as your recipes’ big fan (:P) I think it’s better off to use then the sugar.

  • Tony
    October 7, 2015 at 4:26 am

    What about “sugar alcohols”?

  • Amelia Winslow
    October 7, 2015 at 11:04 am

    I recommend avoiding sugar alcohols whenever possible. They cause gas, bloating, discomfort, or even diarrhea in many people. Basically anything that gives a sweet flavor without any calories should be avoided, so as to help your body’s metabolism function more naturally.

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