Which Sweetener Is Best for Me?

When having coffee or tea, many of us scratch our heads trying to figure out which artificial sweetener we should use. Which one is best? Most of us realize that those little sugar packets, whether white or brown, will add calories to whatever we choose to drink. So, many of us opt for the artificial sweeteners, mostly out of a desire to still enjoy our favorite beverage, while also limiting the amount of sugar-filled calories that we take in our bodies. But, which one of these quick, artificial sweeteners are the best? Is one better than the other? Below is a quick and “sweet” overview of what we’re actually getting in these little sweet packets.

photo of artificial sweeteners Splenda at nutrition coach in Raleigh, NC

The (Not So) Sweet Truth about Artificial Sweeteners

  1. Sucralose – artificial sweetener, comes in a yellow packet (a.k.a. Splenda) – is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Each packet contains 1% sucralose and the rest (the other 99%) in the packet is a bulking agent such as dextrose or maltodextrose (fancy names for sugar). If you’re using lots of these packets in your coffee and tea, you’re consuming a good bit of sugar, hence calories, hence, increased insulin levels which leads to hunger and overeating. Splenda also contains chlorine that is molecularly equivalent to pesticides, DDTS, etc. Scary stuff. My rating for this one is BAD.
  2. Saccharin – an artificial sweetener, comes in a pink packet (a.k.a. Sweet-n-Low) – is the oldest artificial sweetener available on the market today (since 1879). Is considered to be 300 times sweeter than sugar. Saccharin has been proven to cause cancer in laboratory animals and has been associated with bladder cancer in humans. Saccharin has been banned over the years and then unbanned due to the fact that it is cheap and stable and used in so many of our food products. My rating for this one is WORSE.
  3. Aspartame – an artificial sweetener, comes in a blue packet (a.k.a. NutraSweet or Equal) – is considered by many to be the most dangerous additive to foods today. Because of its aspartic acid and glutamate content is considered to be an excitotoxin, which can cause a host of chronic MS symptoms and illness. There’s a lot more bad stuff about aspartame too, but I won’t mention it all here. Just make sure to check the labels of the food you buy. Aspartame is rampant in all kinds of sweety processed foods, including diet sodas, vitamin waters, sugar-free gum, and other sugar-free items. My rating for this one is AWFUL.

A Word about Natural Sweeteners

It goes without saying that the best way to sweeten your coffee, tea or food is to use something that God created – not something artificial. As for something that comes in a packet, the best choice would be:

    photo of stevia artificial sweetener at nutrition coach in Raleigh, NC

  • Stevia – natural and derived from the South American Stevia Plant, is sometimes called the “Holy Grail” of sweeteners and in its rawest form has virtually no calories nor negative impact on blood sugar levels. It often comes in a green or light green packet. You may know it as Truvia or Pure Via, however the healthiest way to buy it is in it’s liquid form. It’s my sweetener of choice, although it can take a little time getting used to. It’s about 100 times sweeter than sugar (tastewise). My rating for this one is GOOD. You can read more about Steviia here.

Some other not so convenient options (like the above sugar packets) would be to use natural sweeteners that contain sucrose and maltose. It’s important to note that sugars such as sucrose, in the form of whole food and in moderation, have little negative effect on the body. However, in the refined (processed) state, these sugars can severely upset the blood-sugar balance. The ones that I list below are not exhaustive, but are the most common and are naturally processed.

    photo of artificial sweeteners Splenda and honey at executive nutrition coach in Raleigh, NC

  • Unrefined Sugar – such as Organic Succanat or raw cane sugars, is great as a sweetener, but contains 82% sucrose. It comes from unrefined cane juice powder.
  • Real Maple Syrup – tastes great in coffee and desserts. It contains 65% sucrose and is boiled-down sugar from the sap of the maple tree.
  • Honey – does contain some minerals and enzymes and does not upset the body’s balance as much as white sugar, although it does contain more calories. It is about 86% glucose-fructose combination as it comes from the nectar of flowers processed in the stomach of bees. All types of honey work naturally to harmonize the liver, neutralize toxins, and relieve pain.
  • Brown Rice Syrup – made from fermented grains and like honey is less harmful to the body’s mineral balance. It’s about 50% maltose, so it won’t impact blood sugar like white sugar.

Chemically Processed Sweeteners

Other sugars, such as white sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar and corn syrups are chemically processed, virtually 99% sucrose (with the exception of Blackstrap molasses, which is 65% sucrose) and have a strong impact on blood glucose levels. In other words, they will raise your blood sugar and contribute to insulin resistance. They are not recommended.

There has been further buzz about Agave (nectar) which has been protrayed as a great natural substitute for sugar. Unfortunately, it is almost all fructose, tends to be overly processed and raises blood glucose levels as well. At 16 calories per tablespoon, it’s not much different than processed table sugar. Dr. Mercola wrote a good article on Agave here if you would like to read more about it.

Artificial Sweeteners and Insulin Resistance

Aside from the mind-numbing and detrimental effects they have on the body, artificial sweeteners actually cause your body to produce insulin by making it think that sugar is on the way. As a consequence, your body tells you to eat more sugar to balance insulin levels. Artificial sweeteners do nothing to assist in this process, since they are not sugar and cannot offset a large release of insulin. The result is that you end up with excess insulin in your body and you eat more food to take care of the problem. As you might expect, this is a major contributor to insulin resistance, which has many serious health consequences.

If you take nothing else from this article, remember – Stay away from pink, blue and yellow. Think of these artificial sweeteners as poison to your body!

As always, I welcome your comments, suggestions and questions below.

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  1. Healthy Skin, Hair and Nails As You Age | Rick Osborn Executive Wellness & Health Coach | Holistic Health Practitioner - Raleigh, NC - June 15, 2012

    […] Sugar -I bet I love sugar as much as you do, but the fact is that it is highly inflammatory to the body and is known to accelerate aging. Eating too much sugar will do a number on your skin. If you eat sugar, eat it sparingly and make sure it’s the real deal, i.e. maple syrup, honey, pure cane, organic succanat, etc. These will be easily utilized in the body and will do less damage than high fructose sources. Remember, the more processed it is, the more fructose (high fructose corn syrup) and the worse it will be for you. This goes for artificial sweeteners too. Splenda, sweet-n-low, Equal and the like are all chemicals and are not good for your skin. If you want to know more about artificial sweeteners, check out my article here. […]

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