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?

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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.”

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.

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“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.

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. 

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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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