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.
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)
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.