Sweeteners: Get the Scoop

How best to satisfy your sweet tooth?


So many sweeteners — natural, artificial. Zero-calorie, low-calorie, high-calorie. What’s the best way to satisfy your sweet tooth?

Below we compare natural and artificial sweeteners, and let you decide.

“Sweeteners can be grouped as nutritive (containing calories) or non-nutritive (containing zero or few calories) and as natural or artificial,” explains Cleveland Clinic registered dietitian Mira Ilic, RD, LD. “Non-nutritive sweeteners can satisfy a sweet tooth without adding calories, making them popular with dieters and people with diabetes.”

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Natural sweeteners

The difference in nutritional value for white sugar, raw sugar, honey and agave nectar is insignificant. However, agave nectar and honey are sweeter than sugar, so you may not need as much.

“Our bodies perceive these nutritive sweeteners as sugar, using them for energy or storing them,” she explains. Stevia and monk fruit are non-nutritive natural sweetener options.

  1. Turbinado or raw sugar. Made from sugar cane juice, raw sugar is slightly less processed than white sugar. It may contain a small but insignificant amount of vitamins and minerals.
  2. Honey. Honey contains antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, but the amounts are too small to be of any health benefit. Note: Honey should not be given to infants because it may contain botulism bacteria spores, a serious health hazard for babies. 
  3. Agave nectar. Extracted from a desert plant, agave nectar is popular for its low glycemic index and concentrated sweetness. It contains a small amount of antioxidants, but not enough to benefit health. Agave nectar should not be given to infants because it is not pasteurized.
  4. Stevia. Stevia is a South American plant available in powder, liquid and leaf form. You can also grow it in your garden. Stevia does not raise blood sugar levels. Its bitter aftertaste has made debittered stevia products — Truvia® and PureVia® — popular.
  5. Monk fruit extract. The Chinese have used this extract from monk fruit, which grows on a vine, for hundreds of years. It is the main ingredient in Nectreese®, a newcomer from the makers of Splenda®.
Today’s natural
Calories per gram (4 g = about 1 tsp) Comparison to sugar Uses
Sugar 4 Beverages, baking
Turbinado (raw) sugar 4 Just as sweet Beverages, baking
Honey 2.9 1.5 times sweeter Beverages, yogurt, smoothies, some baking
Agave nectar 2.9 1.4 – 1.6 times sweeter Beverages, baking
Stevia 0 200-300 times sweeter Beverages, fruit salads, cereals, yogurt, baking; leaves can sweeten drinks
Monk fruit extract 0 200 times sweeter Beverages, baking and more


Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners do not raise blood glucose or insulin levels — important if you have diabetes. “They can be used in a well-balanced diet if they don’t replace healthy food choices,” says Ms. Ilic.

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You may have to experiment to find one you like. Their tastes, aftertastes, intensity of sweetness and uses differ. Note: Some artificial sweeteners use a blend of nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners to improve taste, and are not calorie-free. 

Popular artificial sweetneers Brands Calories per gram Comparison to sugar Uses
Sucralose Splenda® 0 600 times sweeter Beverages, baking
Aspartame Equal®, NutraSweet®, Sugar Twin 1* 200 times sweeter Beverages only; can break down at high temperatures
Saccharin Sweet ‘n Low® 1* 200 to 700 times sweeter Beverages, baking

*Both contain a small amount of the nutritive sweetener dextrose; aspartame contains maltodextrine too


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  • http://www.facebook.com/doug.thatcher.5 Doug Thatcher

    I wish that some of the negative health issues associated with products like “Equal” would have been considered in the above discussion.

  • http://twitter.com/sugarbear2467 sugarbear2467

    I agree wth Doug Thatcher’s comment about confirmed health problems with some of these artificial sweeteners. My next question is who funded this article? Clearly these sweeteners are different chemically yet readers will assume incorrectly that they all do no harm. Cleveland Clinic you can do better than this for the public

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1539565798 Mary Ann Young Robinson

      I don’t think you will ever get big business to admit the adverse side effects as they are from artificial sweeteners. I have a son-in-law that if he even gets a tiny bit of aspertame, it will know him out. Try to get used to Stevia, at least it is a natural plant if you cannot do sugar or do not wish to have sugar.

      • Nurse50carol

        and the Stevia should be Stevia in the Raw not Truvia or Pure Via–same with honey–should be “raw” honey

  • ccjden

    How about ranking all the natural, artificial sweeteners based on safety, benefits, taste,

    based on the compilation of research that was done.

  • Sherrye

    yes I agree. I opened this article to read info on the least risky product with the least calories. For years I’ve heard rumors about the negative effects of artificial sweeteners and have changed products based on what I’ve heard but never been able to get unbiased proof of anything. Thought Cleveland Clinic was providing that today. Hopefully you will address this concern many still have. Thanks

  • Carolyn Clevenger

    I am happy that the Clinic is providing info. regarding these sweeteners. I would love to read about thehealth risks/advantages of these products for making an educated decision about which to use.

    Thanks for the info.!

  • tulip

    I, too, opend this topic hoping to see something about the realtive safety nature of these products. Perhaps the author can expand the report and show safety info–that is if any exists.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1402614770 Kenneth Frazier

    You forgot to point out the NEGATIVE side to using anything with ASPARTAME as in diet drinks and foods …. Google it yourself and read about all the health Hazzards …

    • Nurse50carol

      yes Aspartame is horrible for you–and there are so many things we eat and drink which have this as an additive—I read labels like crazy now since learning this fact.

  • Julie

    Well which is safe and no toxic.

  • Sue

    The artificial sweetners cause me and others people to have epileptic seizures. There should be a warning on all the foods and beverages that have artificial sweetners warning people with neurology problems that these artificial sweetners could cause problems for them.

    • james

      I agree with you i was expecting more from this site now i see it just like the rest.

      • james

        Also everyone has to remember that this info is comming from a dietitian and that is what i have found the way they all think about this sudject.

  • MMat

    I agree with the others. The health aspects should have been included.

  • Megan

    Several years ago, I was diagnosed with Meinere’s Disease. Basically I had episodes of severe vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus (constant ringing in ears.) I read an article about Aspertame poisoning and how it mimics certain conditions – Meineres being one of them. On average I drank probably 5 or 6 Diet Cokes a day and always selected the sugar-free variety in food options. Since cutting out ALL artificial sweeteners from my diet, I no longer have vertigo and the ringing in my ears is completely gone. I have even lost weight since making this change.

  • http://twitter.com/ALIB94 Alan I Brezin

    Follow the advice of Barry Sears, PhD. His Zone Diet books brought attention to the harmfulness of trans fats and the food pyramid taught by conventional nutritional science despite it was developed by the cattle industry to quickly fatten cattle!

  • Julie

    I’m sorry you include artificial sweeteners. Don’t you think that they are dangerous and cancer causing? Not natural.

  • RCS

    How can you begin to consider any artificial sugar, especially aspartame with all that is both known and has been written about the side effects?

  • Lynn

    There is absolutely NO PLACE for artificial sweeteners in the human diet!
    Wake up AMERICA!!
    You have the entire internet to research this topic.
    Just remember as in all things concerning our health..”.ITS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY”.
    Shame on the Mayo Clinic for continuing to support this incredible corporate lie.