What is Healthier: Natural Sugar, Table Sugar, Artificial Sweeteners or Sugar Alcohols?

Average Americans consume almost 20 teaspoons of sugar per day.

So how much sugar is “OKAY”?

The American Heart Association advises capping added sugars at 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women and 9 teaspoons (36 g) per day for men.

Sugar Alcohols: The next Sugar Frontier?

 For many decades, sugar alcohols have been popular alternatives to sugar. They look and taste like sugar, but have fewer calories and fewer negative health effects.  In fact, many studies show that sugar alcohols can actually lead to health improvements.

What Are Sugar Alcohols?

Sugar alcohols (or “polyols”) are types of sweet carbohydrates. As the name implies, they are like hybrids of sugar molecules and alcohol molecules. Despite the “alcohol” part of the name, they do not contain any ethanol, the compound that gets you drunk. Sugar alcohols are safe for alcoholics. Several sugar alcohols are found naturally in fruits and vegetables. However, most are produced industrially, where they are processed from other sugars, such as the glucose in corn starch. Sugar alcohols look like white crystals, just like sugar.

Unlike artificial and low-calorie sweeteners, sugar alcohols do contain calories, just fewer than plain sugar. The most popular are these in order of best choice:


Erythritol is another sugar alcohol that is considered to have an excellent taste. It is processed by fermenting the glucose in corn starch. It has 70% of the sweetness of sugar, but only 5% of the calories. Along with the low-calorie sweetener stevia, erythritol is the main ingredient in the popular sweetener blend known as Truvia. Erythritol does not have the same digestive side effects as most other sugar alcohols, because it doesn’t reach the large intestine in significant amounts. Instead, most of it gets absorbed into the bloodstream and then excreted unchanged in the urine. Your best choice if you’re reducing calories and maintaining stable blood sugar.


Xylitol is the most common and well-researched sugar alcohol. It has a distinct mint flavor, and is a common ingredient in sugar-free chewing gums, mints and oral care products like toothpaste. It is about as sweet as regular sugar, but has 40% fewer calories. Aside from some digestive symptoms when consumed in large amounts, xylitol is well tolerated. An okay choice unless you have some digestive symptoms.


Sorbitol is claimed to have a smooth mouth feel and cool taste. It is 60% as sweet as sugar, with about 60% of the calories. It is a common ingredient in sugar-free foods and drinks, including jelly spreads and soft candy.  It has very little effect on blood sugar and insulin, but may cause significant digestive distress. A bad choice.


Maltitol is processed from the sugar maltose, and has a very similar taste and mouth feel as regular sugar. It is 90% as sweet as sugar, with almost half the calories. While products that contain maltitol can claim to be “sugar-free,” it is well absorbed by the body and does cause spikes in blood sugar. If you have diabetes, then be skeptical of “low carb” products that are sweetened with maltitol, and make sure to monitor your blood sugars carefully. NOT a good choice at all.

Other sugar alcohols that are commonly found in some food products include mannitol, isomalt, lactitol and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates.

Sugar Spotting

To eliminate added sugars, you first need to find them, which is no easy feat. For one thing, sugar goes by many different names. Common ones include agave, brown sugar, cane juice, cane sugar, coconut palm sugar, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate (such as apple or pear juice concentrate), honey, brown rice syrup, maple syrup and high fructose corn syrup. And as we mentioned “natural” or plain “table” sugar they are all the same to your body and all the same in terms of dangers.

So which one is better?

Conventional wisdom still holds; moderation is key both with artificial sweeteners and natural sugars. For someone looking to lose weight, artificial sweeteners such as Swerve, Lakanto and even just plain Erythritol  are probably your best bet.

This article compiled from articles by Samantha Cassetty, RD, at nbcnews.com, hristina Stiehl Austin is a Health and fitness staff writer for Thrillist and finally,  experts at Authority Nutrition.

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*The content presented on this page is not intended to diagnose health problems or take the place of professional medical care.


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