Artificial sweeteners are synthetic compounds that active the same sweet-sensing taste buds in your mouth, but don’t actually contain any calories.
While there’s a lot of controversy about the long-term safety and benefits of artificial sweeteners, they still seem safer and less dangerous than consuming an equivalent amount of sugar.
Sugar is undoubtedly linked to obesity, metabolic disease, and poor long-term health. If you’re trying to wean yourself off sugar, an artificial sweetener might be just what you need. Here are the ten best artificial sweeteners on the market.
1. Microingredients Pure Sucralose
Microingredients Pure Sucralose is a high-quality artificial sweetener that uses sucralose, a sweetener that provides no calories and is usable in baking, cooking, and adding to drinks.
Thanks to its heat stability and versatility, it’s an excellent choice for replacing sugar, and the fact that it is not a sugar alcohol means that it won’t produce the gastrointestinal side effects associated with those artificial sweeteners.
Because of all these advantages, it’s our top pick.
2. Swerve Sweetener
Swerve Sweetener use a blend of oligosaccharides and erythritol to create a smoother and sweeter taste profile, all while delivering zero calories and zero carbohydrates.
It’s excellent for beverages and baking, and using multiple ingredients helps avoid the digestive issues that can occur when an artificial sweetener relies too heavily on erythritol.
3. So Nourished Erythritol
So Nourished Erythritol is a 100% erythritol artificial sweetener that comes in a one pound bag and provides no calories.
Like other erythritol sweeteners, you might get an upset stomach if you consume a huge amount of this artificial sweetener, but for most people, it’s a great solution for swapping out sugar in their normal diet.
4. Truvia Natural Sweetener
Truvia Natural Sweetener uses a blend of the natural non-caloric sweetener stevia as well as the artificial sweetener erythritol and some natural flavorings.
This gives it a distinctive taste that’s much better than the vaguely chemically sweet taste lesser-quality artificial flavoring agents can acquire. These individual packets are great for sweetening coffee and tea when you’re on the go.
5. Halefresh Erythritol
Halefresh Erythritol is completely calorie free, meaning you can add it to your food and drinks without increasing your overall caloric intake.
Erythritol is well-suited for adding to coffee, tea, and other beverages, but since it is a sugar alcohol, it has the potential to cause gastrointestinal problems in some people if you consume large amounts of it.
Apart from that downside, it’s well-suited for replacing sugar in many recipes.
6. NOW Foods Xylitol
NOW Foods Xylitol is a sweetner that belongs to the sugar alcohol family. These have been used for a long time, so their safety record is fairly well-established.
Xylitol is not actually calorie-free, but it has only 65% of the calories that sugar has. More importantly, its glycemic index is very low compared to sugar: it produces a spike in blood sugar that is far less than that of sucrose (i.e. normal sugar).
NOW Foods Xylitol comes in a resealable one pound bag, making it great for general use in the kitchen.
7. Anthony’s Premium Erythritol Sweetener
For heavy sugar users, Anthony’s Premium Erythritol Sweetener is an excellent option if you are not sensitive to the digestive disruptions associated with sugar alcohols.
This five pound bag is great for bulk use, and the only sweetener is 100% pure erythritol.
8. Purisure Sucralose
Purisure Sucralose is 100% pure and comes in a fairly small package size, at 50 grams per resealable bag. It’s a good option if you aren’t a heavy sugar user to begin with and just want to replace a teaspoon or two in your morning coffee.
Bulk users will go through these bags quickly, but it’s a great choice for the occasional user.
9. Equal Original
Equal Original provides a zero calorie artificial sweetener in paper packets that are convenient for travel and for serving, but the ingredients aren’t as high-quality as some other options.
For one thing, it relies on dextrose and maltodextrin, which aren’t actually calorie-free.
The primary sweetener is aspartame, as well as acesulfame potassium. It’s an okay option for packets, but many people would be better served by a different product.
10. EZ Sweetz Sucralose
EZ-Sweetz is a liquid and portable artificial sweetener. It’s great for travel, and for adding sweetener to your coffee or tea instead of sugar.
The downsides are that, because of its liquid form, it relies on preservatives like sodium benzoate to maintain freshness.
Who Should Buy Artificial Sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are generally safe for all individuals and are great for people trying to lose weight and avoid sugar consumption. Furthermore, since blood sugar isn’t affected by the consumption of artificial sweeteners, diabetics will benefit greatly from them.
Special populations such as pregnant women and children should consult a doctor before consuming any artificial sweeteners.
How We Ranked
There are a ton of artificial sweeteners available on the market, and some are better than others. Acesulfame-K has 200 times the level of sweetness as sugar and is commonly used to sweeten alcoholic drinks since the alcohol will mask its bitter aftertaste. We did not include it in our rankings since it isn’t the best option. Aspartame is one of the most popular artificial sweeteners and provides sweetness of 180 times that of sugar. Unfortunately, aspartame can cause skin reactions, and preliminary research shows that it is linked to brain tumors in monkeys, which is why we decided to omit it from our rankings.
Sugar alcohols, like Manitoba and sorbitol, are great for diabetics and provide a sweetness level of around 60% of Sucralose. In large amounts, this artificial sweetener can have laxative effects. We chose not to include these sugar alcohols because there are better options on the market, with fewer side effects. Saccharin is an organic molecule derived from petroleum that provides nearly 300 times the amount of sweetness as sugar. It’s not included on our list because it has been associated with bladder cancer and can negatively affect pregnancy.
Stevia is a powerful artificial sweater (200-300 times the sweetness of sugar) and is clinically proven to be non-toxic. Stevia is very heat stable, making it great for cooking, and it does not raise blood sugar levels, making it safe for diabetics, which is why we ranked Truvia in our top 5. Sucralose or Splenda is around 600 times sweeter than sugar, does not affect blood sugar levels, and is widely regarded as the best sweetener when it comes to baking and cooking.
Erythritol is one of the better options on the market, contagion 95% fewer calories than sugar, moderate sweetness levels, and almost no side effects or long term issues. This was our number 1 choice overall, and its why you’ll see a variety of products on our list like HaleFresh, So Nourished and Swerve, ranked so highly.
Xylitol products, like Now Foods, were also highly regarded since they provided a clean, sweet taste with limited side effects. It was ranked a little bit lower than our erythritol products since it tends to cause more digestive distress.
Artificial sweetener benefits and side effects
Artificial sweeteners are chemical compounds designed to replace sugar in the diet by stimulating receptors on the tongue that detect sweet flavors.
With the indisputable truth about sugar’s detrimental effects to health being common knowledge, artificial sweeteners have become incredibly popular.
More than two-thirds of Americans classify as overweight or obese, and cutting back or eliminating sugar seems to be on the top of most people’s “to-do” list. Using an artificial sweetener to replace sugar might be one way to accomplish that.
We’ll take a look here at exactly what science can tell us about the most popular artificial sweeteners on today’s market.
Cutting down on refined carbohydrates can reduce your risk for chronic diseases. Plenty of research has been conducted on the negative effects of refined carbohydrates, including sugar. By now, it’s become clear that excess carbohydrates like those found in sugar can contribute to the development of heart disease (1), the number one killer worldwide. (2)
While sugar and honey are examples of natural sweeteners, these chemical substitutes are usually either low-calorie or no-calorie options for imparting that sweet taste most of us want in certain foods and drinks without sabotaging weight or overall health goals.
Certain low-calorie sweeteners like stevia are actually natural, and sugar alcohols like xylitol, mannitol, erythritol and sorbitol deliver half (or less) the calories of sugar. Some of these have health benefits and are popular as well, but they are made through processing natural foods, so they are not chemical sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners are many times sweeter than sugar, so a little goes a long way. The controversy originates in the question of how they affect our bodies, and whether or not these chemical compounds are safe to ingest.
There are several options for artificial sweeteners. Most of these chemical compounds deliver hundreds of times the sweetness of sugar, so even the artificial sweeteners that aren’t calorie-free don’t contribute any appreciable amount of carbohydrate to the diet. (3)
Moreover, their glycemic index is quite small, so your blood sugar rises much more slowly after consuming these artificial sweeteners compared with an equivalent amount of sugar.
Here are some best-selling sugar substitutes, along with the ratio of sweetness compared to sugar. Aspartame, sold as Equal and Nutrasweet, is 180 times sweeter than sugar. Acesulfame-K, sold as Sweet One and Sunnet, is 200 times as sweet as sugar.
Saccharin, sold as Sweet ‘n Low, Sugar Twin and Sweet Twin, is 300 times sweeter than sugar, and Sucralose, sold as Splenda, is 600 times as sweet as sugar.
It’s not clear whether artificial sweeteners are effective at suppressing your appetite. Humans aren’t the only animals who seek reward foods that stimulate pleasure centers in the brain; if lab rats (and other animals) didn’t love that sweet taste like we do, there would be much less information available about how it all works.
Some researchers believe the lack of calories in artificial sweeteners causes an incomplete activation of the reward pathway, leading to increased appetite as the body seeks that feeling of satiation. (10)
Magnetic imaging technology confirms that eating sugar cuts back on the amount of signaling in the hypothalamus, which controls appetite. (11) Asparatame does not have the same effect.
When the body doesn’t feel satisfied with what you give it, you’re likely to experience cravings and possibly consume more calories to meet the desire.
In a trial with 200 participants, sugary drinks were replaced with either water or artificially sweetened drinks; no changes in food intake were noted over a 6-month period, which provides stronger evidence that consuming an artificial sweetener won’t lead you to eat more elsewhere in your diet. (14)
Because artificial sweeteners still activate your body’s ability to taste sweetness, not all researchers are convinced that they are benign.
While our ancestors had little opportunity to indulge in sweet foods, they’re abundant in modern culture. Some believe using artificial sweeteners encourages an unnatural focus on sweets.
We can easily train our taste buds by following preferences, and sugar or sweet-tasting foods are no exception. (15) It seems the more sweets we eat, the more we want.
Observational studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may actually be linked with weight gain over the long term. (16)
A recent review of 9 observational studies indicated users of artificial sweeteners can end up with higher Body Mass Index (BMI), but not significantly more fat mass or weight. (17)
The trouble with observational studies is that it’s difficult to ascertain whether this association is truly reflective of causes, versus merely correlation.
Other evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners do reduce weight gain. In a large controlled trial with more than 600 juvenile participants, results showed less weight gain over 18 months when children consumed drinks sweetened artificially, compared to those who drank sugar-sweetened products. (18)
When researchers correlated data from 15 trials, they found weight loss for participants who replaced sugary drinks with artificially sweetened drinks averaged about 1.8 pounds. (19)
It’s tempting to focus on weight as a reflection of overall health, but we all know there’s more to it than that.
Back to observational studies (which can’t provide indisputable evidence), artificial sweeteners may be linked to a higher risk of several metabolic disorders, including heart disease, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. (22)
One study showed a staggering 121% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes for consumers of artificially sweetened soft drinks. (23) Another suggested consuming these drinks could jack up the chances of metabolic syndrome by 34%.
A clinical trial studying the effect of artificial sweeteners on gut bacteria indicated significant disruptions can occur; in rats, this led to glucose intolerance issues. (24)
Research shows when the environment inside the digestive system is negatively impacted by various conditions or circumstances, it increases the risk of developing a variety of serious disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even organ failure. (25, 26, 27)
Are artificial sweeteners harmful? There has been some research that shows that artificial sweeteners may be harmful to the body long term and have been linked to increased rates of headaches and depression among users. Artificial sweeteners like sorbitol have also been liked with digestive issues like diarrhea and abdominal discomfort when used in more copious amounts.
Do artificial sweeteners cause weight gain? Directly, artificial sweeteners do not cause weight gain since they are lower in calories. However, because of the intense level of sweetness provided by artificial sweeteners, there is a higher chance that consumers will consume large amounts of these sweetened foods. Consuming large amounts of artificially sweetened food can ultimately lead to higher consumption of calories, which may result in increased weight and other adverse health consequences (28).
Though many people use artificial sweeteners or opt for diet beverages as a way of reducing sugar intake and consuming few calories, several studies have demonstrated a connection between using artificial sweeteners and weight gain. There have also been reports of artificial sweeteners increasing hunger and appetite in those consuming the substances, thus encouraging future weight gain.
What is the best artificial sweetener? Artificial sweeteners are available in low-calorie and zero-calorie form but can have some negative health consequences. If you are looking for a healthier alternative to sugar, but are also looking to avoid the negative consequences of artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols may be a better solution. In particular, xylitol and erythritol offer the same effects as sugar, have zero or low calories, and do not result in a dramatic increase in blood sugar levels. Stevia is also another good option and has become one of the most popular sugar substitutes in recent years.
What are examples of artificial sweeteners? Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes designed to taste like sugar without resulting in the adverse effects often associated with sugar consumption. These substances are low-calorie (or zero-calorie) additives that, in turn, reduce the calories in beverages and food in which they are included (29).
Some examples of artificial sweeteners are saccharin (Sweet’N Low), sucralose (Splenda), and aspartame (Equal). Each artificial sweetener has its own ingredients and level of sweetness.
What are artificial sweeteners made of? Artificial sweeteners are designed to taste like sugar and sweeten food and beverages without including the detrimental effects of sugar. In general, most artificial sweeteners are chemical compounds sold in the form of powder or as an already combined liquid in beverage products.
Is diet soda bad for you? Diet soda is healthier than regular soda due to the lower calorie content and sugar. However, this does not mean that diet soda is healthy. Simply put, using diet soda as a replacement improves a person’s current condition and health level, but does not improve health dramatically. Furthermore, there are limited long term studies on artificial sweetener consumption, so it is unclear what the damage of diet soda is over the long haul.
Are artificial sweeteners worse than sugar? Generally, artificial sweeteners are seen as more beneficial to the body than sugar, but this does not mean you should consume these products in unlimited amounts because there are still adverse effects associated with these products. The consumption of sugar causes a drastic increase in blood sugar levels, an effect that is not found in artificial sweeteners. Additionally, artificial sweeteners, when used as a substitute for sugar, provide fewer calories than sugar does. However, research has shown that artificial sweeteners and sugar both may lead to weight gain when these products are used in larger amounts or more consistently.
Do artificial sweeteners cause cancer? To date, there are no confirmed connections between artificial sweeteners and the development of cancer. In rats and mice, research has shown that some artificial sweeteners may have led to the development of tumors, but this data is not entirely relevant to humans. Artificial sweeteners may have risks and negative health consequences, but there are no current concerns when it comes to cancer.
Are artificial sweeteners considered stimulants? Artificial sweeteners themselves are not considered stimulants. However, they are often combined in beverages that contain stimulants such as caffeine, which can cause increased energy levels, increased heart rate or palpitations, and nervousness.
Can diabetics use artificial sweeteners? For the most part, there are no concerns when it comes to diabetics using artificial sweeteners. It’s often recommended that those with diabetes limit their sugar intake, and artificial sweeteners are a great way for diabetics to consume sweeter foods without experiencing the boost in blood sugar levels post-consumption. A majority of these sweeteners either do not cause a spike in blood sugar, or they cause a mild increase, which is both ideal effects for diabetics.
Do artificial sweeteners make you gain weight? The main reason that people use artificial sweeteners is to reduce sugar intake, which also reduces calorie consumption. One of the greatest misconceptions about artificial sweeteners is that they promote weight loss and are excellent alternatives to actual table sugar. While the connotation here is that beverages and food with artificial sweeteners have lower calorie content, there are studies that have connected artificial sweeteners and weight gain.
Why would artificial sweeteners cause weight gain? There are many reasons this may be occurring. For one, many people assume that foods with artificial sweeteners are “healthier,” which may lead to the false belief that they can eat more substantial quantities of these foods without experiencing negative consequences. However, with a larger consumption, more calories and other nutrients are taken in as well, which could result in weight gain or an increase in body fat. Artificial sweeteners are sometimes hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than table sugar, which could increase the cravings of those that enjoy sweeter foods.
In moderation and within the recommended doses, there should be no concern when it comes to using artificial sweeteners and risking weight gain. It’s important to remember that weight gain is associated more with the actual foods and beverages that include these artificial sweeteners, not the sweetener itself.
Do artificial sweeteners raise blood sugar levels? Typically, artificial sweeteners are not connected to increases in blood sugar. Artificial sweeteners are, therefore, reliable alternatives for diabetics or those with issues maintaining a healthy blood sugar level (30).
Do artificial sweeteners make you constipated? Artificial sweeteners are generally not linked to constipation, but there is some evidence that suggests a connection between gastrointestinal upset and artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol have been shown to cause diarrhea and abdominal pain when consumed in more copious amounts. In fact, there is more evidence that artificial sweeteners can produce a laxative effect in users when consumed consistently or in larger amounts (31).
How does the body respond to artificial sweeteners? The brain responds to artificial sweeteners in a way that is similar to regular sugar. This means that the craving for sweetness or sugar is satisfied with artificial sweeteners without actually having to consume sugar. Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners do not cause much of an effect on blood sugar levels. There is nothing significant about the digestion of artificial sweeteners that makes the digestion of these substances different than any other food or beverage with sugar.
Why do artificial sweeteners have an aftertaste? Many artificial sweeteners have an aftertaste, which is a reason that many people do not enjoy consuming these substance. The aftertaste is most likely the result of artificial sweeteners being made of chemicals and chemical compounds, which the bodies taste glands react to. When chemical reactions occur, a change in structure and taste may occur in the substance.
How can you stop consuming artificial sweeteners? It is relatively difficult to stop using artificial sweeteners because they are used as sweeteners in many food and beverage products, and you might not even realize that you’re consuming them so frequently. To thoroughly remove artificial sweeteners, the first step you should take is to stop adding these artificial sweeteners to your food altogether.
The next thing you should do is become more informed when it comes to the nutritional content of the foods and beverages you purchase. To prevent purchasing food with artificial sweeteners, you should look at the ingredients list for your foods and remove any foods that use artificial sweeteners over sugar. Many manufacturers have made this process easier by advertising their products as being made with real sugar, as opposed to artificial sweeteners.
It’s essential that you pay attention to the products you buy and the claims they make. For example, if a product advertised as “sugar-free” or “low-sugar,” it contains artificial sweeteners.
The best thing you can do to stop consuming artificial sweeteners is to begin consuming food and beverages that are all-natural. With these products, the sweetness provided will be as a result of their natural sugars and not added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
What are some examples of food with artificial sweeteners? It’s likely that you consume food and drinks on a daily basis that have artificial sweeteners without even knowing you’re doing it. One of the most popular products that have artificial sweeteners is diet soda. However, artificial sweeteners are also used as sugar substitutes in many canned foods, dairy products, and baked goods. As a rule of thumb, any food advertised as being sugar-free, but still tastes sweet, likely achieves those results through sugar substitutes, most likely artificial sweeteners. If you are looking to decrease the number of artificial sweeteners that you consume in your diet, the best thing you can do is pay attention to ingredients and labeling tactics.
Should you consume sugar or artificial sweeteners? The answer to this question depends on your current health conditions and personal preference. If you have issues maintaining your blood sugar or have been diagnosed with some form of diabetes or obesity, your primary health goal is to reduce sugar intake. If you are a member of a special population that should be decreasing sugar or caloric intake, artificial sweeteners are probably going to be your best bet.
If you do not have health concerns and usually consume sweeter foods and beverages in small amounts, there should be no real issue consuming sugar rather than artificial sweeteners. Even if you do not have health issues yet, you should replace sugar with artificial sweeteners if your current sugar intake is higher than it should be.
Artificial sweeteners are compounds that provide all of the sweetness of sugar, but none of the calories. If artificial sweeteners can help you cut down or eliminate sugar from your diet, they could be a valuable part of a weight loss program or a healthier lifestyle.
If you already use an artificial sweetener and you’ve noticed cravings, issues with blood sugar, headaches, or any other unexplained health problem, you may want to drop them for a while and see what happens.
The jury’s still out on some of the potential health effects of substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar, and using them isn’t likely to cause any significant changes in weight, but most people don’t seem to suffer ill effects. Moreover, eliminating excess sugar and refined carbohydrates from your diet is definitely a smart choice, and artificial sweeteners could be a tool for accomplishing that goal.
For Body Nutrition’s #1 artificial sweetener recommendation, click here.