Alternative Sweeteners

Splenda. Equal. Xylitol. Agave.

If you’ve ever dieted, these are probably names you are very familiar with. Alternative sweeteners are a classic way to cut calories from your day to day life- but are they safe? Studies are often conflicting, and it can be difficult to know whether the danger is truth or hype. With help from the Mayo clinic, the National Cancer Institute, and a few other sources, we’ve taken a look at a few of these sweeteners and gathered together some information for you.

1. Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial Sweeteners are sugar substitutes that contain products such as Aspartame and Succralose. They are often sweeter than regular sugar. Their benefits include extremely low calorie counts and a lowered risk of dental problems. Some of the most common artificial sweeteners are:

  • Equal
  • Nutrasweet
  • Splenda
  • Sweet’N Low
  • Sweet One

There’s been a lot of talk that these products might be dangerous. The verdict, according to the National Cancer Institute? Safe, as long as you aren’t a rat.

“Studies in rats showed an increased incidence of urinary bladder cancer at high doses of saccharin, especially in male rats. However, mechanistic studies (studies that examine how a substance works in the body) have shown that these results apply only to rats. Human epidemiology studies (studies of patterns, causes, and control of diseases in groups of people) have shown no consistent evidence that saccharin is associated with bladder cancer incidence.”

Similar results were found for Aspartame, Succralose, and Cyclamate. However, if you’re a heavy user of these products- going over the daily recommended dosage- you might want to cut back.

2. Sugar Alcohols

Sugar Alcohols (polyols) are carbohydrates that occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables, but they also can be manufactured. Unlike Artificial Sweeteners, these are not sweeter than normal sugar and contain calories (though fewer than sugar itself). Examples of Sugar Alcohols include:

  • Lacitol
  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol
  • Truvia
  • Pure Via

The verdict? Safe, when eaten in low doses. “When eaten in large amounts, usually more than 50 grams but sometimes as little as 10 grams, sugar alcohols can have a laxative effect, causing bloating, intestinal gas and diarrhea. Product labels may carry a warning about this potential laxative effect.” (The Mayo Clinic)

3. Natural Sweeteners

These are the alternatives touted by health food stores and organic cooks. Unrefined and derived from natural foods (with names you can pronounce), these are the ‘health food’ versions of alternative sweeteners. They include:

  • Date Sugar
  • Agave Nectar
  • Honey
  • Maple Sugar/Syrup
  • Molasses
  • Grape Juice Concentrate

These are the safest on the list. However, they are also the closest to sugar- and so have the highest calorie count.

It can be difficult to choose an alternative to sugar, especially with such conflicting information out there. What do you use when dieting? Do you prefer a natural alternative, or the calorie-free varieties? Let us know in the comment section below.


1. “Artificial Sweeteners: Understanding These and Other Sugar Substitutes.” The Mayo Clinic,

2. “Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer.” The National Cancer Institute,

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