Sugar Substitutes–Frequently Asked Questions


Why is sugar bad for you?

Sugar, usually in the form of sucrose (table sugar) and glucose, is conclusively linked to major health risks, including an increased risk of tooth decay, weight gain, and, most significantly, the possibility of developing or worsening diabetic state.

Diabetics lose their ability to process sugar effectively, causing sugar to remain in circulation instead of being used for energy and fuel. High levels of blood sugar contribute to cardiovascular disease, neuropathy (nerve damage), retinopathy (eye damage), and osteoporosis.

How many calories are really in artificial sweeteners?

While most artificial sweetener packets are listed as containing “zero-calories,” this is due to a specific loophole in the labeling guidelines that allows for any products under 5 calories/serving to be listed as containing 0 calories.

For example, Splenda is measured at 3.36 calories/gram, due to the addition of dextrose and maltodextrin. Since the average serving size (one packet) is only one gram, Splenda is able to label itself as zero-calorie, even though this calorie density is comparable to that of table sugar (3.86 calories/gram). Replacing sugar for artificial sweeteners will not necessarily provide a weight-loss benefit.

Are sugar substitutes more or less healthy than sugar?

These sweeteners have vastly different sources, from sweeteners extracted from the Stevia plant to compounds like aspartame synthesized in laboratories.

Popular sugar substitutes like sucralose and stevia are considered safe in moderation, and, in stevia’s case, may have a better benefits/risk health profile vs. sugar. Many substitutes have, however, been implicated as the cause of serious disease in laboratory, animal, and human testing. Sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and acesulfame potassium have all been labeled as GRAS (generally regarded as safe) by the FDA, but major health and scientific organizations continue to call for long-term clinical trials in humans before reaching a scientific consensus on overall safety. Health professionals usually recommend the use of natural sweeteners in moderation before considering artificial alternatives.

Related: Aspartame vs Sucralose vs Saccharin

What is the Glycemic Index of Sucralose

Sucralose, by itself, has a very low glycemic index since it has no carbohydrate content. However, brands like Splenda® commonly use maltodextrin and dextrose as bulking agents, which should effectively raise its glycemic index well over 50, which is in the range of highly-processed simple carbohydrates and sugars. However, since Splenda is often used in such small amounts (rarely over 5g per serving of food), its overall Glycemic Load in your daily diet is relatively low.

Related: Hidden Glycemic Index Risks of Artificially Sweetened Products