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July 31, 2013

The Sweet Beat: 3 Things to Know When Shopping For Sweeteners

Stroll down any grocery store aisle and you’ll find many choices that add a touch of sweetness to your food. Whether you want to reduce the amount sugar in your diet or watch your waistline, many people are turning to artificial sweeteners or other sugar substitutes. With so many options, how do you know which one is right for you? Here is what you need to know when shopping for sweeteners.

Dietitian Brandy Love shares what you need
to know when shopping for sweeteners.
Most sweeteners are categorized as artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, novel sweeteners or natural sweeteners.

Artificial Sweeteners: Equal, Splenda and Sweet’N Low are considered attractive alternatives to sugar because they add little or no calories to your diet. Additionally, you only need a fraction compared to the amount of table sugar you would normally use.

Sugar Alcohols: Commonly found in desserts, chewing gum and mouthwash, sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables, but they can also be manufactured. Sugar alcohols contribute fewer calories and are typically less sweet than regular sugar. They are often combined with artificial sweeteners to enhance sweetness. Food labels may list the specific name, such as xylitol, or will simply use the general term “sugar alcohol.”

Novel Sweeteners: Prepared by combining various types of sweeteners, novel sweeteners are another low-calorie alternative to regular sugar. Truvia and Pure Via which are both extracts from the sweet stevia plant are two popular novel sweeteners.

Natural Sweeteners: Honey, molasses and agave nectar are your most common natural sweeteners. These sweeteners are often promoted as healthier options than regular sugar or other sugar alternatives.

Each sweetener category has varying sweetness intensities when compared to sugar. For example, Equal is 180 times sweeter than sugar but Splenda is 600 times sweeter.  When substituting products like this, always reduce the amount of artificial sweeteners - many companies provide conversions on the packaging. Natural sweeteners can easily be substituted in cooking, but baking can be a bit tricky. Natural sweeteners are sweeter than table sugar but can be composed of more water so you would have to adjust your recipe accordingly.

There are hundreds of websites and magazines that either tout the benefits of one sweetener or vilify another. Even if a TV show praises agave or stevia as “superfoods,” it does not mean it will solve all your health concerns. Find the research or a trusted professional that can provide more detail on specific health claims. When in doubt, seek the truth out. Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), or university and research journal websites for the latest information.

Whether you’re trying to reduce sugar intake, keep blood sugar under control as a diabetic, cut calories, or opt for more natural food items, there are several options on the market. With a little resourcefulness, you can make smart informed decisions to keep you and your family healthy.

Brandy Love, RD, LDN is a Community Dietitian at Food & Friends. She received a Bachelor of Science in Food Science & Human Nutrition at the University of Hawaii and completed her dietetic training through the Mayo School of Health Sciences. In addition to counseling clients, Brandy teaches CHEW (Cooking Healthy to Eat & Win), a 2-hour cooking class for Food & Friends clients. 


  1. Wow! A well thought out discussion on sweeteners, both natural and otherwise. Then pointing people with questions to science based website and not some loony's diatribe against the evils and life,health,sanity destroying capabilities of one compound or another.

    I'm sorry. Rational behavior like this can not be tolerated on the Internet

  2. Very nice break down. Unlike many other postings on this topic, it gives some scientifically-based resources for those interested in further study on the topic.

  3. Thank you guys! I really appreciate it. We need credible sources to make informed decisions, and this is what we try to share with our clients. Stay tuned as we dig a little deeper into the world of sweeteners and other nutrition hot topics!