Sugar Cubes

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Which Sugar Substitute Is the Best? Top Sugar Alternatives Explained

Posted Jun 29, 2023 Updated Apr 15, 2024

As consumers, the more we learn about the negative health impacts of a high-sugar diet, the more we seek out sugar-free alternatives. And this quest for a sugar-sweet substance that doesn’t have the drawbacks of real sugar has led to the rise of the use of various sugar substitutes. And there are an array of options available from artificial and natural sweeteners to sugar alcohols. Which leaves us consumers with an intriguing dilemma: which one is the best? In this article, we’ll delve into the captivating world of sugar substitutes, dissecting the science and merits of each category as we seek to determine the ideal sweetening option.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, as the name suggests, are synthetic sugar substitutes. They add sweetness to food and beverages without contributing significant calories. They are also intensely sweet, requiring smaller quantities to achieve the desired taste. The following FDA-approved artificial sweeteners have been extensively studied and approved by regulatory authorities as safe for consumption.

Known for their ability to provide sweetness without raising blood sugar levels, artificial sweeteners are popular among individuals managing diabetes or aiming to reduce caloric intake. However, they are the subject of controversy, with concerns regarding potential adverse health effects, including links to weight gain, metabolic disturbances, and altered gut microbiota. While these concerns persist, artificial sweeteners remain a popular choice for many seeking a sugar-free alternative.

Acesulfame K

Acesulfame K, also known as acesulfame potassium, is a calorie-free artificial sweetener that is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar. It’s often used in combination with other sweeteners due to its bitter aftertaste. Acesulfame K is heat-stable, making it suitable for use in baked goods and other heated applications. While it’s approved by regulatory authorities as safe for consumption, some studies have raised concerns about potential carcinogenic effects in animals. But we need further research to determine its safety in humans.


Advantame is a relatively new artificial sweetener approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2014. It comes from aspartame and vanillin and is about 20,000 times sweeter than sugar. Advantame has a clean taste and is stable under high-temperature conditions, making it suitable for a wide range of food and beverages. As a relatively new sweetener, we have limited research available on its long-term effects or potential health benefits or drawbacks, necessitating continued monitoring and study.


One of the most widely used artificial sweeteners, aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar. It’s composed of two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, and a small amount of methanol. Aspartame is commonly found in diet sodas, sugar-free desserts, and tabletop sweeteners. It’s deemed safe for consumption by regulatory authorities. But there have been concerns about its potential links to headaches, dizziness, and other health issues, particularly in individuals with a rare genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU) who cannot metabolize phenylalanine effectively.


Neotame is a highly potent artificial sweetener that is up to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. It’s chemically related to aspartame but modified to enhance its stability under high-temperature conditions. You'll find neotame in a variety of products, including baked goods, beverages, and dairy products. It’s approved as safe for consumption by regulatory authorities and has no known health benefits. However, neotame contains phenylalanine, so individuals with PKU should avoid consuming it.


Saccharin is one of the oldest artificial sweeteners. It's approximately 300-500 times sweeter than sugar but it also has a slightly bitter aftertaste. It's often used in low-calorie or sugar-free products like diet sodas, tabletop sweeteners, and baked goods. Saccharin has faced controversy throughout its history, with concerns about its potential links to cancer in laboratory animals. Regulatory authorities have deemed saccharin safe for consumption, but individuals may have personal preferences regarding its taste profile.


Sucralose is a popular artificial sweetener that is approximately 600 times sweeter than sugar. It’s derived from sucrose through a process that substitutes chlorine atoms for three hydroxyl groups. Sucralose is heat-stable and widely used in a variety of food and beverages, including soft drinks, baked goods, and dairy products. It has no calories and does not affect blood sugar levels. While it is generally considered safe for consumption, some studies have suggested possible effects on gut microbiota and insulin response. But we need further research to confirm these findings and understand their significance.

Natural Sweeteners

Natural sweeteners come from natural sources and offer a more wholesome alternative to refined sugar. These sweeteners are often extracted from plants, such as fruits, stevia leaves, or sap from certain trees. Prominent examples of natural sweeteners include honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and coconut sugar.

Natural sweeteners are perfect for those seeking a less processed option that retains some of the nutritive properties of the original source. These alternatives can provide additional nutrients and minerals, albeit in relatively small quantities. However, it is important to remember that despite their natural origins, you should consume natural sweeteners in moderation. They can still contribute to calorie intake and affect blood sugar levels, particularly for those with diabetes or insulin resistance.

Stevia leaf

Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It's popular for its intense sweetness, which can be up to 200 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia leaf extract contains compounds called steviol glycosides, primarily stevioside and rebaudioside, responsible for its sweet taste. It is commonly used as a sugar substitute in beverages like OLIPOP, baked goods, and various processed foods. Stevia leaf is popular among individuals seeking a natural alternative to sugar due to its minimal impact on blood sugar levels and calorie content. However, some may find it to have a slightly bitter or licorice-like aftertaste.

Cassava Root Syrup

Also known as tapioca syrup or cassava syrup, this natural sweetener comes from the cassava plant, a starchy tuber. You obtain the syrup by extracting and refining the natural sugars from the cassava root. It is commonly used as a sweetener in products like OLIPOP, as well as candies, desserts, and sauces. Cassava root syrup provides a sweet taste similar to traditional sugar but with a lower glycemic index. This means it has a less significant impact on blood sugar levels. Read our Cassava Root Syrup Ingredient Spotlight to learn about how this natural sweetener contains beneficial prebiotic fiber. It is important to note that cassava root syrup still contains calories, so make sure to consume it in moderation. 

Luo han guo (Monk Fruit)

Monk fruit is a natural sweetener derived from the fruit of the siraitia grosvenorii plant. Native to southern China, the monk fruit has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Monk fruit extract contains compounds called mogrosides, particularly mogroside V, which provide intense sweetness without adding calories. Monk fruit sweeteners are increasingly popular in various food and beverage products, including functional beverages, yogurts, and baked goods. They provide sweetness without impacting blood sugar levels, making them a popular choice. Plus they lack that bitter aftertaste often associated with other sweeteners. However, monk fruit sweeteners can be relatively expensive compared to other natural sweeteners. And some may find the taste to be less like traditional sugar than other alternatives.

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols, despite their name, are neither sugar nor alcoholic. They are a type of carbohydrate derived from plants, and they occur naturally in foods like fruits and berries. Sugar alcohols possess a sweet taste but are incompletely absorbed by the body, resulting in fewer calories compared to regular sugar.

One key characteristic of sugar alcohols is their ability to provide a similar sweetness to sugar without causing a significant spike in blood glucose levels. That's why they're often used in sugar-free or reduced-sugar products targeted at individuals with diabetes or those seeking to reduce their sugar intake. However, excessive consumption of sugar alcohols may have a laxative effect and cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some individuals, so moderation is still crucial.


Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in fruits and berries. It is commonly used as a sweetener in sugar-free chewing gum, candies, and other confectionery products. Sorbitol has about half the sweetness of sugar and provides fewer calories. It is slowly absorbed by the body, which can have a laxative effect when consumed in large amounts. Thus, excessive intake of sorbitol may lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, such as bloating and diarrhea. 


Xylitol is a sugar alcohol found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. It is widely used as a sweetener in sugar-free chewing gum, toothpaste, and various food products. Xylitol has a sweetness like sugar but with fewer calories and a minimal impact on blood sugar levels. It can inhibit the growth of bacteria, particularly Streptococcus mutans, making it beneficial for dental health. However, excessive consumption of xylitol can cause digestive discomfort and may have a laxative effect, so make sure to consume it in moderation.


Lactitol is a sugar alcohol derived from lactose, a sugar found in milk. It is frequently used as a sweetener in sugar-free and reduced-sugar products, including chocolates, baked goods, and ice cream. Lactitol has a sweetness like sugar but with a reduced caloric content and a lower impact on blood sugar levels. It is slowly absorbed by the body, which can cause gastrointestinal side effects, including bloating and diarrhea, particularly when consumed in large quantities.


Mannitol is a sugar alcohol naturally found in certain fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms. It is commonly used as a sweetener in chewing gum, candies, and pharmaceutical formulations. Mannitol has a cooling effect and is often employed in products where texture and stability are important. It provides about half the calories of sugar and has a minimal impact on blood sugar levels. However, excessive intake of mannitol can lead to digestive issues, including gas and bloating, due to its poor absorption by the body.


Erythritol is a sugar alcohol found naturally in some fruits and fermented foods. It's a common sweetener in sugar-free products, including beverages, baked goods, and sugar-free desserts. Erythritol has a sweetness similar to sugar but with virtually no calories and a minimal effect on blood sugar levels. It is well-tolerated by most individuals and does not usually cause gastrointestinal discomfort or a laxative effect, even when consumed in relatively large amounts. This makes erythritol a popular choice among those seeking a sugar substitute with fewer side effects.


Maltitol is a sugar alcohol derived from maltose, a sugar found in grains such as wheat and barley. It is commonly used as a sweetener in sugar-free candies, chocolates, and baked goods. Maltitol provides a sweetness similar to sugar with about half the calories. However, it has a higher glycemic index than some other sugar alcohols, meaning it can cause a more significant increase in blood sugar levels. Additionally, maltitol may have a laxative effect and can contribute to gastrointestinal discomfort when consumed in large amounts.


Isomalt is a sugar alcohol derived from sucrose that is often used as a sweetener in sugar-free candies, chocolates, and bakery products. It has about half the calories and sweetness of sugar. Isomalt has a low impact on blood sugar levels and does not typically cause significant gastrointestinal discomfort. However, excessive consumption can lead to mild laxative effects. Isomalt's heat stability and ability to retain moisture make it suitable for use in various food applications.

Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH)

HSH are sugar alcohols produced by the hydrogenation of starch. They are commonly used as sweeteners in sugar-free and reduced-sugar products, including candies, baked goods, and ice creams. HSHs provide fewer calories than sugar and have a minimal impact on blood sugar levels. They can contribute to a softer texture and provide bulk to food products. While HSHs are generally well-tolerated, excessive consumption could cause digestive discomfort and a laxative effect.

So, Which Sugar Substitute Is the Best?

Determining the best sugar substitute for you depends on several factors, including your health goals, dietary restrictions, and personal preferences. Artificial sweeteners offer calorie-free sweetness, but they may come with lingering concerns about potential long-term effects. Natural sweeteners provide a more natural option, but you also need to consider their calorie content and impact on blood sugar. Sugar alcohols, with their reduced calorie load and milder effect on blood glucose, offer a viable alternative but can cause digestive distress in excess.

Ultimately, the "perfect" sweetener remains elusive, and a balanced approach is key. Moderation, as with most things in life, is crucial when consuming any sugar substitute. For individuals with specific health conditions, it is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to determine the most suitable choice based on individual circumstances.

Sugar Substitutes: The Takeaway

In considering the questions surrounding sugar substitutes, it’s important to approach the topic with nuance and an individualized perspective. Are sugar substitutes healthier than sugar? While they offer lower or zero-calorie alternatives to sugar, the healthiness of sugar substitutes depends on various factors, such as an individual's health conditions, dietary goals, and overall lifestyle. 

Artificial sweeteners have faced scrutiny, but when consumed in moderation, they are generally considered safe by regulatory authorities. However, the long-term effects of artificial sweeteners are still under investigation. Sugar alcohols also have their considerations, as excessive intake can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort. Natural sweeteners offer the allure of natural sources, but you should still consume them in moderation. Ultimately, here at OLIPOP, we’ve opted to take the natural route to ensure reliable and sustainably sourced sweetness that can help contribute to a healthy microbiome.

Cheat Sheet
  • There are three common sugar substitute categories: artificial sweeteners, natural sweeteners, and sugar alcohols, each with its own positive and negative features and benefits.
  • Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols are viable sugar alternatives that can be extraordinarily sweet.
  • Natural sweeteners come from natural sources and can achieve the same sweetness levels as ordinary sugar, and they may be associated with some positive health effects.
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