A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

This is sweet: Your guide to sugar, artificial sweeteners

graphic of sugar falling into spoonAre artificial sweeteners safe? Should I use honey or agave nectar instead of sugar? I have diabetes – what can I use?

With conflicting information available about sugar and artificial sweeteners, these questions might have crossed your mind.

Have diabetes? Try artificial sweeteners

If you have diabetes, limit your intake of sugar, honey, molasses and agave nectar, which increase blood sugar, and consider opting for artificial sweeteners instead.

Artificial sweeteners, as well as the plant-based sweetener stevia, are good substitutes for people with diabetes because they have no calories and don’t cause blood sugar spikes, Marshfield Clinic dietitian Chrisanne Urban said.

You can use artificial sweeteners for cooking or baking, add them to your tea or coffee, or check food labels for the ingredients listed on the chart below.

Which artificial sweetener is your best option?

“It comes down to taste preference,” Urban said.

Artificial sweeteners are safe

If you’ve heard artificial sweeteners are unsafe, don’t fear; these products are approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Some theories suggest people who use artificial sweeteners have a hard time losing weight or begin to crave sweet foods, but a cause-and-effect relationship hasn’t been proven, Urban said.

Diet sodas, which contain artificial sweeteners, can help people on carbohydrate-control diets transition away from sugared sodas, while they work toward drinking more water.

Spot added sugar in your diet

You don’t have to avoid sugar completely if your doctor or dietitian hasn’t recommended a carb-control diet. But sugar calories add up quickly and lead to obesity over time, so moderation is key.

“Also,” Urban said, “remember that just because a product’s label says ‘sugar-free’ does not mean that product is calorie-free. You can still gain weight eating these foods so again, all things in moderation.”

A teaspoon of sugar in your coffee doesn’t seem like much, but it’s important to pay attention to added sugar found in other foods under different names. For example, Urban recommends checking nutrition labels for high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar and inverted sugar.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 100 calories (25 grams or six teaspoons) per day for women and 150 calories (37.5 grams or nine teaspoons) per day for men.

“A lot of our food supply has added sugar – food we wouldn’t think it would be added to,” Urban said.

“And remember that just because a product says ‘sugar free’ doesn’t mean it’s calorie free. You can still gain weight on these products, so all things in moderation.”

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