10 Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Substitutes

These examples of natural and artificial sweeteners can help you decide which to try.

Sugar isn't bad; it can add flavor and enjoyment and offer you some calories you need. Every cell in our body runs on glucose, a form of sugar (although we don't need to eat glucose because our body makes it from the foods we eat.)

Too much added sugar can negatively impact your health, though. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends limiting added sugar to less than 10% of your daily calories to avoid several chronic health conditions such as obesity and diabetes.That's about 12-and-a-half teaspoons for someone eating 2,000 calories daily, but most adults in the U.S. eat nearly 17.

Eating sugar in moderation can help you stay at a healthy weight and reduce your risk of heart disease, depression, and liver disease, among other perks. If you're looking for some examples of artificial sweeteners or natural ones to use because you're considering eating less added sugar, we've compiled a list of 10 options for you to consider.

Why You Might Want a Sugar Alternative

Research has found that too much added sugar:

  • Is linked with cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and dementia
  • Could lead to a cycle of overeating sugar and sugar cravings
  • Contributes to cardiovascular disease
  • Can contribute to diabetes, obesity, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

Numerous health organizations, including the American Heart Association, advise against too much added sugar, but Americans eat 60 pounds yearly, about three times the recommendations.

Americans bought fewer products with added sugars between 2002 and 2018 and more products with a combination of added sugar and non-nutritive sweeteners, aka artificial sweeteners. Should you turn to natural or artificial sweeteners, and are they healthier?

Artificial sweeteners generally have few or no calories but may have other health effects. Natural ones can add as many or more calories as sugar and lead to blood sugar spikes and weight gain, and some are refined well past their 'natural' state.

To help you decide which ones to use, Health researched the real deal on some popular sweetener options.

Natural Sweeteners



AKA: Table sugar

Calories: 16 per teaspoon

Found: Naturally in fruit; added to baked goods, jams, marinades, salad dressings

The deal: Sucrose offers energy but no nutritional benefits.

In 2003, a team of international experts recommended that added sugars make up no more than 10% of your diet or about 12 teaspoons (50 grams) for a 2,000-calorie diet. By 2021, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended slashing that to 9 teaspoons for men and six for women and children older than 2.

The AHA also recommended focusing on all added sugars, not just certain types such as high-fructose corn syrup.

Agave Nectar



Agave syrup

Calories: 20 per teaspoon

Found in: Cereals, yogurts, tea

The deal: The nectar is a product of the agave cactus, and its taste and texture are similar to honey.

It contains fewer antioxidants than honey but has about the same calories. Agave is sweeter than sugar, so proponents suggest you use less to get similar sweetness.

It contains more fructose than table sugar and could be less likely to spike your blood sugar, but it still has a lot of calories without much nutritional benefit.

High Fructose Corn Syrup



Karo, corn syrup

Calories: 17 per teaspoon

Found in: Sodas, desserts, cereals

The deal: This hotly debated sweetener contains the sugars fructose and glucose from processed corn syrup.

Because it's cheaper than sucrose and gives products a longer shelf life, more packaged foods in the U.S.—especially soda, cereal, and yogurt—contain HFCS as added sugar instead of sucrose.

Taking in too much HFCS can contribute to obesity because of the risk of consuming too many excess calories. While some studies show that HFCS is not worse for your health than sucrose, limiting your consumption of both is best.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends limiting sugar-sweetened beverages that contain the additive because drinking more is associated with obesity, weight gain, Type 2 diabetes, and other health conditions.



AKA: Honey syrup

21 per teaspoon

Found in: Cereals, baked goods, teas

The deal: Honey contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, and because it has a lower glycemic index than sucrose, studies suggest it may not raise blood sugar as fast as other sweet products. It's generally better for the body to have a slow and steady rise in blood sugar after eating rather than a dramatic spike.

Artificial Sweeteners

Although most would call the following artificial sweeteners, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) refers to these sugar substitutes as "high-intensity" sweeteners.

That's because "small amounts pack a large punch ... Also, high-intensity sweeteners generally do not raise blood sugar levels," according to the FDA.

We've listed the perks and drawbacks below so you can decide whether to use them.

Acesulfame Potassium


AKA: Sunett, Sweet One

Calories: 0

Found in: Soft drinks, gelatins, chewing gum, frozen desserts

The deal: This nonnutritive artificial sweetener was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1988.

However, pre-market testing was sparse. Hoescht, the chemical manufacturer, ran a few long-term animal studies that showed it might be linked to cancer, although animal studies don't always translate to humans.

In 1996, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) urged the FDA to require better testing, but in 2022, it was still FDA-approved as safe for consumption.



AKA: Equal, NutraSweet

Calories: 0

Found in: Drinks, gum, yogurt, cough drops

The deal: One of the most studied artificial sweeteners, aspartame, has been accused of causing everything from weight gain to cancer.

However, since being approved by the FDA in 1981, studies have found no convincing evidence. The FDA and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics say aspartame in moderation poses no threats. So does the European Food Safety Authority.

The CSPI felt differently and gave it its lowest ranking in a review of food additives. People with phenylketonuria, an inherited genetic disorder, should avoid it.



AKA: NutraSweet, Newtame

Calories: 0

Found in: Some drinks, dairy products, frozen desserts, puddings, fruit juices

The deal: The FDA approved this artificial sweetener in 2002.

It is between 7,000 and 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar, depending on what it is added to, and is produced by the same company that makes aspartame.

Neotame is one of the only nonnutritive sweeteners to get the seal of approval from the CSPI, but manufacturers rarely use it in everyday products.

Stevia Leaf Extract


AKA: Truvia, Pure Via

Calories: 0

Found in: Diet drinks, yogurts, individual packets

The deal: Derived from the stevia plant, stevia leaf extract, also called rebiana, is deemed a more natural alternative to artificial sweeteners. It's another refined, high-intensity sweetener with zero calories.

Although the FDA has not approved crude stevia extracts, refined stevia products such as Truvia gained a Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) approval from the FDA in 2008.

In 2013, the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest said it considers rebiana, a natural high-potency sweetener obtained from stevia, safe but deserving of better testing.

Some research indicates it can help people manage their weight because of the lower calorie content.



AKA: Sweet'N Low

Calories: 0

Found in: Drinks, canned goods, candy

The deal: Rat studies in the early 1970s found a link between consuming saccharin and bladder cancer, prompting Congress to mandate in 1981 that all foods containing it bear a warning label. Animal studies do not always translate to humans.

Later studies showed these results might only occur in rats, and there was a lack of evidence that saccharin causes human cancer. Saccharin was removed from the U.S. National Toxicology Program's Report on Carcinogens in 2000, and Congress repealed the warning label.

The CSPI places it on their "avoid" list, acknowledging that Congress's removal of the label will likely result in greater use of the sweetener.



AKA: Splenda

Calories: 0

Found in: Fruit drinks, canned fruit, syrups

The deal: Sucralose received FDA approval in 1998, and although one study showed it might negatively impact the immune system, follow-up studies did not find a correlation.

The CSPI deems it safe, and several studies have found it is not carcinogenic.

This sweetener is one of the few not sensitive to heat. It can therefore be used in baking, helpful in limiting empty-calorie carbohydrates for people managing their weight or conditions such as diabetes.

Sugar Alcohols


AKA: Sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol

Calories: 10 per teaspoon

Found in: Sugar-free candies, gum, desserts

The deal: Sugar alcohols aren't nonnutritive sweeteners—they have 2.6 calories per gram—but they don't cause tooth decay like table sugar.

Although they're generally less sweet and caloric than sugar, eating large amounts (particularly mannitol) can cause bloating and diarrhea. Manufacturers add them to sugar-free foods marketed to those with diabetes because they contain fewer carbohydrates than table sugar.

They contain some carbohydrates, so eating them in excess may increase blood sugar.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends consuming sugar alcohols in moderation and counting half of the grams of sugar alcohols as carbohydrates because only about half get digested.

A Quick Review

Several prominent national and international health organizations say to limit the amount of added sugars you eat. You can turn to natural or artificial sweeteners, each with benefits and drawbacks.

Some benefits of natural sweeteners are fewer calories and, in some cases, some added minerals. But, you might choose an artificial sweetener instead because they're usually sweeter than sugar and have few or no calories.

Regardless of which options you choose, the key is moderation.

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21 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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