Understanding Sweeteners

A Sweet Comparison

Different types of sweeteners are used in our foods yet many people don’t realize the differences between them. The majority of sweeteners can be divided into two groups – natural and artificial. The following information will help you understand the difference between them and their impact on your diet.

Natural & Artificial SweetenersNatural Sweeteners

Natural sweeteners are created by refining foods found in nature such as sugar cane, fruit or corn. These sweeteners are also called caloric sweeteners because they provide calories which your body uses to produce energy. The most common of these sweeteners includes:

  • Table sugar (sucrose)
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Cane juice
  • Fruit juice concentrate

These sweeteners have more in common then you might think, including their:

  • Composition – They all have essentially equal proportions of the same simple sugars, glucose and fructose.
  • Sweetness - Each offers approximately the same level of sweetness.
  • Natural Sweetener HoneyCalories - Each has similar caloric value where one gram equals 4 calories.
  • Metabolism – They are metabolized at about the same rate and are indistinguishable by the body.

These caloric sweeteners are nutritionally equivalent. With that said, what’s important to remember is that everything should be consumed in moderation.

“It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive sweeteners and nonnutritive sweeteners (NNS) when consumed within an eating plan that is guided by current federal nutrition recommendations, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Dietary Reference Intakes, as well as individual health goals and personal preference.”
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association)

Artificial Sweeteners

In addition to natural sweeteners, some sugar substitutes are synthetically created and manufactured. These artificial sweeteners are usually many times sweeter than regular sugar and add virtually no calories to the diet. Some people mistakenly believe that high fructose corn syrup is an artificial sweetener but as shown above, it is actually a natural sweetener. Artificial sweeteners currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are:

  • Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)
  • Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
  • Neotame
  • Saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet'N Low)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)

To see how sweeteners compare, view a chart on comparing sweeteners.

Dr. Kristine Clark, Assistant Professor at Penn State University discusses the truth about sweeteners, including the role that they play in our diet..



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White JS. 2008. Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain't. Am J Clin Nutr 88(6):1716S-1721S.

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