Sugar Alternatives

Sugar Alternatives


If you’re looking to cut down on the calories in your diet or simply take control of the amount of sugar you consume, sugar alternatives can help. These natural and artificial sweeteners are found in a wide range of foods and drinks and can be added yourself to baking or in hot drinks.


Here, we’ll take a closer look at sugar alternatives, why people use them, how they do so and ask if sugar alternatives carry any health risks.


What are sugar alternatives?


Also known as sugar substitutes, these food additives provide the same sweet taste of white sugar with far fewer calories. In fact, sugar alternatives often provide so little energy that metabolising them negates any calories you eat, making them effectively “zero” or “low” calorie.


Almost all sugar alternatives are either plant or chemical-based.


Artificial sweeteners are sugar alternatives made from chemicals deemed fit for consumption. They are typically much sweeter than regular sugar meaning you really don’t need a lot to sweeten up an iced tea or when used in baking, for example.


Nutritive sweeteners are sugar alternatives that contain carbohydrates and contain a non-negligible amount of calories.


Why do people use sugar alternatives?


Sugar alternatives are used for a variety of reasons, namely:


  • Regulate weight: those cutting calories in order to lose weight can often use artificial sugar alternatives and “low-calorie” versions of soft drinks to limit their intake. Opting for the lower calorie form of a fizzy drink, for example, is an easy way to help keep a diet on track.


  • Regulate diabetes/blood sugar: containing no carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners are also good for ensuring blood sugar levels are kept in check. For diabetics or those who need to prevent spikes in their blood sugar, these provide a convenient form of sweetness.


  • Prevent tooth decay: with no form of sugar included, people also opt for artificial sweeteners to make sure teeth are not eroded. With an alarming number of children now displaying the signs of tooth decay, artificial sweeteners are considered a good way to satisfy a child’s sweet tooth without sacrificing their oral health.


  • Taste: some people opt for nutritive sugar alternatives because they prefer the taste. For example, some people simply prefer the taste of honey in tea to that of white sugar. Some baking recipes are also elevated by replacing some refined white sugar with blackstrap molasses.


  • Better result: in baking and commercial products, sugar alternatives may often produce a better result or one that is more suitable for different markets. Coconut sugar, for example, is sometimes used in baking products to add a different texture and a little extra taste.


List of sugar alternatives


While there is a multitude of different sugar alternative options out there, these are the most common:



  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Rice malt
  • Molasses
  • Coconut sugar
  • Date sugar
  • Agave nectar




  • Stevia
  • Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K)
  • Saccharin
  • Sucralose
  • Xylitol
  • Aspartame


What foods use sugar alternatives?


Whether it’s sold by itself or included as an ingredient in other products, both artificial and nutritive sugar alternatives can be found in your average supermarket. Many processed foods and drinks will contain sugar alternatives, especially in countries like the UK where a sugar tax (,into%20force%20in%20April%202018.) has been implemented to help curb obesity.


Sugar alternatives are often found in products such as:


  • Low-calorie soft drinks
  • Cereals
  • Diabetic chocolate
  • Jam
  • Juice
  • Lemonades
  • Yogurt


Nutritive sweeteners are typically sold on their own in either a syrup or crystalized powder form. Agave nectar, for example, made from the Mexican Blue Agave plant, typically comes in a squeezy bottle and can be used in baking, cocktails, or hot drinks. Date and coconut sugar, however, will come in a powder form and will somewhat resemble white sugar, albeit a more natural colour.


Artificial sweeteners are sold in powder or tablet form. The powdered forms can be used similar to sugar, and packaging will indicate a relative measure, typically half or less as much is needed. Tablet forms are great for hot drinks and bringing with you on the go, as they are small and can be dispensed quickly.


Who uses sugar alternatives?


Sugar alternatives are attractive to a few different groups in particular:



Whether it’s the nutritive or the artificial kind, sugar alternatives have a much lower glycemic index (GI) than white sugar. Diabetics aim to eat foods with a low GI to avoid spikes in their blood sugar levels which can lead to further health complications. Sugar alternatives provide a way to avoid over-spiking blood sugar levels.


Technically known as sucrose, white sugar has a GI of around 65. Coconut sugar, for example, has a GI of only 35 and agave syrup a yet lower 15. Artificial sugar alternatives are even lower, with most registering a 0 on the GI scale.


Overweight individuals


People struggling with their weight also turn to sweeteners and sugar alternatives. Their lower calorie count means people can still enjoy the tastes and textures they are accustomed to without the accompanying food energy.


Acid reflux sufferers


For some people, sugar in certain foods can trigger acid reflux. These foods include:


  • Citrus products
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint products
  • Pastry products
  • Caffeinated drinks like tea or coffee


While avoiding these types of foods is one option, some choose to go for sugar-free or low-calorie versions where sugar has been replaced with an alternative. They may also choose to use a sugar alternative with their own home cooking to reduce acid reflux symptoms.




In some countries, the refinement process of white sugar involves the use of animal products. For vegans and those morally opposed to the use of animals for food, sugar is a bit of a grey area. Nevertheless, a lot of vegans will elect to eat less sugar and opt for non-sugar based alternatives when possible to avoid a moral conflict.


Are sugar alternatives bad for you?

The types of sugar alternatives you will find in commercial products and purchasable from the supermarket are safe for consumption in reasonable quantities.


People are especially concerned over artificial sweeteners with an understandable reluctance to consume chemical substances they are not even sure how to pronounce. The issue is also compounded by outdated studies that linked sweeteners like saccharin to cancer after studies involving rats.


Both nutritive and artificial sweeteners are safe, however. This has been confirmed by a joint study undertaken by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Together, they established safe daily intakes of commercially available artificial sweeteners and deemed regular sugar alternatives use fine when included as part of a balanced diet.


One issue that does arise from the use of sugar alternatives, however, involves their use for weight regulation. Those looking to lose weight can sometimes feel overconfident in the number of calories “saved” by opting for a zero-calorie soft drink, for example, and overindulge elsewhere.