Trending - Sweeteners

It’s the holiday season, which means holiday baking, candy, and other sweet confectionaries abound. In this post, we highlight the different types of ingredients that make our foods sweet.

What are sweeteners? 

Any ingredient that adds a familiar sweet taste to our foods is a sweetener. We can find sweeteners in nature (e.g., honey, maple syrup), humans can make them from synthetic ingredients, or we can derive them from natural ingredients. 

What types of sweeteners are there?

There are four main types of sweeteners:

  • Sugars
  • Sugar Alcohols
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Naturally-derived low-calorie sweeteners, like Stevia & Monk Fruit

What are sugars?

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate found in many foods. Sugar can be the naturally occurring carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products. 

Sugar can also refer to the many types of sweeteners we add to food products such as honey, maple syrup, table sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and more. 
 

Are sugars safe? Are they bad for your health?

As with most foods, moderation is key. Overconsumption of sugar leads to increased calorie intake and is associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disorders.
 
Naturally occurring sugars found in whole fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products typically do not cause adverse health impacts because they are found with other naturally occurring fibers, minerals, protein, antioxidants, and more. The presence of these key nutrients, especially fiber, helps slow down the absorption process of the naturally occurring sugar, helping us avoid overconsumption.
 
However, added sugar found in soda pop, fruit juices, pastries, candy, and more could be harmful to human health when consumed in excess (1,2) because our bodies quickly digest and absorb the ingredients making it easier to over-consume. 
 
Learn more at https://go.msu.edu/Mxp5
 

What are sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols are compounds derived from sugars such as fructose and glucose. We find sugar alcohols in many reduced-calorie sweetened food products such as gummy bears, chewing gum, frosting, dairy desserts, and more.
 
While sugar alcohols contain some calories, they do not cause the same blood spikes that common sugars cause and can be suitable for individuals with health conditions like diabetes.
 
Additionally, some research shows that the sugar alcohol xylitol can help prevent cavities and protect oral health when used in chewing gums and hard candies (1,2). 

Are sugar alcohols safe?

Sugar alcohols are safe for most individuals when consumed in moderation. However, if consumed in excess, some sugar alcohols can cause gastrointestinal discomfort and can have a laxative effect (1,2,3).

 

What are artificial sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners, also called sugar substitutes, are created ingredients added to sweeten or enhance food and beverage products. These sweeteners are referred to as “high-intensity” because it takes much less artificial sweetener to achieve the same sweetness level as traditional sugar.
 
These sweeteners typically add very few, if any, calories to the products and generally do not contribute to blood sugar spikes, making them a safer alternative for people with medical conditions such as diabetes.
 
We find artificial sweeteners in many food and beverage products marketed as “diet” or “reduced-calorie.” Often, the sugar traditionally found in these products is replaced with a no or low-calorie artificial sweetener to maintain flavor while reducing the total calories consumed.
 

Are artificial sweeteners safe?

Artificial ingredients are not inherently bad, just as natural ingredients are not inherently good (no one wants to consume all-natural cyanide!). As with all ingredients, the amount someone consumes leads to health impacts.
 
For most individuals, artificial sweeteners are safe and have undergone intense scrutiny as a food additive by the U.S. FDA before receiving approval.
 
However, some individuals with the rare genetic condition, phenylketonuria (PKU), are unable to process components of aspartame. Those individuals should not consume products containing aspartame.
 
Learn more at https://go.msu.edu/4xp5 
 

What are naturally derived, low-calorie sweeteners?

Unlike artificial sweeteners, naturally derived low-calorie sweeteners are made from all-natural ingredients, most commonly Stevia and Monk Fruit. 
 
While manufacturers derive these sweeteners from naturally occurring plants and melons, they are often chemically processed and can be added to other ingredients. This processing does not impact the health outcomes or the safety of the final product.
 

Are naturally derived low-calorie sweeteners safe? Are they healthy?

Using calorie-free stevia or monk fruit sweeteners instead of traditional sugar or other calorie-rich sweeteners can reduce the number of calories consumed.
 
Additionally, these ingredients can help individuals manage medical conditions such as diabetes because they generally do not contribute to blood sugar spikes.
 
Unless you have an allergy that prevents you from using a product, stevia and monk fruit sweeteners are as safe to consume as artificial sweeteners and offer no additional health benefits.
 
Learn more at https://go.msu.edu/bxp5
 

The good news.

When consumed in moderation, sweetened treats made from an assortment of sweeteners are safe to enjoy (even if they are calorie-laden

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