Artificial v Natural Sweeteners: what’s the difference?

Posted by nexbaau on 9th Mar 2021

By now, it’s a pretty well-known fact that sugar is no good for you. The white, refined kind of sugar that we all grew up with has been linked to spiked blood sugar, inflammation, gut health issues (the list goes on) causing many of us to put down the sugar packets for good.

But let’s be honest, everybody likes a little something sweet every once in a while. That’s why hundreds of sugar-free sweeteners have been popping up on ingredient labels everywhere. But what’s the difference between artificial sweeteners and natural ones? Which is healthier? And which tastes most like the real thing?

We took a look at artificial sweeteners and natural substitutes to decide once and for all which sweet stuff takes the cake.

Sit down sugar, we need to talk

First, let’s remember why we’re here. We know that plain old white, refined sugar is bad for you, but why? 

Basically, when you eat sugar, your blood glucose levels spike, which is the ‘sugar high’ that gives you a short burst of energy, followed quickly by a crash. You can run your blood sugar levels up and down all day, because when you crash, you turn to more sugar to bring you back up. Feeding a sugar crash with more sugar only pulls you into an unhealthy cycle of highs and lows.

Sugar is also extremely inflammatory in the body, which means it triggers the immune system. Chronic inflammation is believed to be the basis of a lot of common diseases, which is why sugar is a big no-no for your health. 

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are just that: they’re artificial. They’re made up of chemicals that derive from all kinds of sources and are the main sweetener choice for diet soft drinks and ‘sugar-free’ processed food.  

Here’s the deal: pretty much all artificial sweeteners have one thing in common – they’re a lot sweeter than ordinary sugar. You’d think that would encourage you to eat a smaller amount of artificially sweetened products, but unfortunately, studies have shown that it has the opposite effect.  

These super-sweet artificial sweeteners can actually lead to side effects like increased appetite, nausea and fatigue and develop into more serious side effects like gut health issues, heart problems and even cancer 

Saccharin (E954) 

  • 400x sweeter than sugar. 
  • Linked to gut health issues and inflammation. 

Aspartame (E951) 

Acesulphame potassium (E950) 

Sucralose (E955) 

  • 700x sweeter than sugar. 
  • Studies show its link to a higher risk of diabetes. 

Be wary of labels that say ‘No artificial colours or flavours’, too. The colour and flavour may be natural, but the sweetener is still made from chemicals that your body won’t enjoy. It’s a no from us! Instead look for the magic combination of no artificials, coloursflavours AND sweeteners. 

Natural sweeteners

As a general guide, it’s always better to opt for natural ingredients rather than artificial ones. They’re usually going to be less processed, contain less chemicals and be just all-round better for you. 

Natural sweeteners are essentially plant derivatives that taste like sugar but contain little calories and some health benefits. Unlike artificial sweeteners, they’re not made from synthetic sugar substitutes and won’t contribute to tooth decay and cavities! 

While natural usually = better, it’s important to remember that not all natural sweeteners are created equal. Some are better than others when it comes to taste, side effects and how they compare to plain old sugar. 

Natural sweeteners like coconut sugar, molasses, honey and maple syrup aren’t really much different from sugar. They may contain slightly smaller amounts of fructose and some tiny amount of nutrients, but sadly your liver really won’t be able to tell the difference. 

Natural sweeteners that are actually good for you:

Stevia

  • 250-300 times sweeter than regular sugar. 
  • Extracted from the leaves of a plant called Stevia rebaudiana, which has been used for sweetness and medicinal purposes for centuries in South America. 
  • Studies have shown to lower blood sugar levels in diabetics. 

Erythritol 

  • About 70% as sweet as sugar.  
  • Erythritol is made by fermenting the sweet, natural starches in fruits like pears and melons. ‘Fermenting’ means that good bacteria eat the starch and turn it into erythritol, removing all the sugar. 
  • Studies have shown that erythritol doesn’t spike blood sugar or insulin levels and has little to no effect on your gut health!

Xylitol

  • Xylitol is a sugar alcohol (don’t worry, it’s booze-free!) that’s found in many fruits and veggies. Humans even produce small qualities of it through their normal metabolism!  
  • Xylitol has a very low glycemic index and doesn’t spike blood sugar or insulin levels. 

Rice Malt Syrup 

  • Made with 100% organic brown rice.
  • The final product contains soluble complex carbs, maltose and is 100% fructose free.

The brown rice syrup acts like 100% glucose inside your body, which is your body’s preferred carb-based energy source.

Nic Florido