Sweet Temptations ... Sweeteners

Useful sugar alternatives, or just "greenwashing"?

As introduced in my previous post about sugar, many people try to cut down their sugar consumption by using alternative sweet substances, like artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols (aka. polyols). Others are convinced that sugary alternative sweeteners, like brown sugar, honey, agave syrup, or coconut blossom sugar are healthy ways to sweeten their coffee, tea, cookies and whatsoever.

Sweet treats from time to time are ok, there is no need for using sweeteners at all times!
An occasional sweet treat or sweeteners without remorse?

The long-term health effects of the former mentioned artificial sweeteners are questionable due to their low utilisation. However, they are handled with caution by food safety institutions and an upper limit [ADI (acceptable daily intake)] is set for each one. As you can see in the table below, there is always some time passing between the discovery and the use in the EU.

Polyols often cause bloating or other intestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, so their consumption should also be limited, depending on the individual sensitivity.

Also for added sugar a limited consumption is recommended, being less than 10% of the total caloric intake, which would be 50g of added sugar in an average diet with 2000 kcal. "Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. This  does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits" states the United States Agricultural Department.

Thus, brown sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, invert sugar, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses (golden syrup), fruit nectars, raw sugar, cane juice as well as agave syrup count as added sugars.



Whether your sweeteners are "natural" or "organic" makes no dietetic, whilst a great environmental, difference.

So, does the substitution of white sugar with other sweeteners make sense?

Due to possible relations of artificial sweeteners with increasing cancer rates in animal tests (despite the fact that animal testing is necessary to legalize these substances) and the laxative effects of great amounts of polyols I am doubting the reasonability of cutting down on sugar this way. 

To help you make the switch to a diet lower in sugar, especially for people with overweight (BMI [kg/m²] ≥ 25), artificial sweeteners and polyols can be a helpful notch, though!



Examples of low calorie sweeteners

in accordance to EUFIC (European Food Information Council)


times sweeter than sucrose


EU use since

Acesulfame-K (E950)
























Steviol glycosides












*Steviol glycosides are the natural sweet components found in the leaves of the stevia plant. (table contains information found under: http://www.eufic.org/article/en/page/RARCHIVE/expid/Benefits_Safety_Low_Calorie_Sweeteners/ . status 20th January 2017) 

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols, like sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, xylitol (all ending on OL) and isomalt provide about half the energy that carbs would, so about 2 kcal per gramme. 


Unlike sugar, they are not bad for the teeth, they might even prevent caries via fostering salvation and promoting remineralisation. Therefor sugar alcohols are often used in chewing gum and toothpaste - Have a look next time when you brush your teeth. Due to their need of energy to dissolve in water, they create a cooling sensation on the tongue where they get in touch with water.

These sugar substitutes might not make you drunk but amounts of more than 20g daily can disrupt the intestine and lead to diarrhea, due to the slow absorption. Producers often advise their customers to increase the consume slowly to a maximum of 100g per day for adults and 50g for children younger than twelve years.


For diabetic persons I recommend to use them with caution, because the effect on the blood sugar is not easily comparable to the one of sugar. These sweeteners do not need insuline to be taken up into the cell, but however can affect the blood sugar when consumed in bigger ammounts, how much and how fast is individually different. Xylitol for example makes the level rise, but much less and way slower than sugar would do. Hence, some experimenting with blood glucose monitoring and adjustment of insuline dose is necessary when diabetics are using sugar substitute. 

Beech Tree by Rosel Eckstein / pixelio.de
Beech Tree by Rosel Eckstein / pixelio.de



sugar alcohols sweeteners no alcohol
Sugar ALCOHOLS? by Timo Klostermeier / pixelio.de

Xylitol, E 967

This sugar alcohol provides 2,4 kcal/g and is slightly less sweet compared to sugar. It is made from xylose which is hydrolised hemicellulose, a kind of wood sugar, which can originate from sweet corn cobs (mainly in China, where corn is harvested by hand), beech bark and wood (mainly in Europe). It is a by-product of cellulose extraction for paper or of sweet corn harvesting.

Besides the laxative effects when used in large amounts before the body gets used to it there are no known negative effects of this sweetener in humans. However, it can be life-threatening for dogs to eat xylitol because it causes a rapid release of insuline and accordingly decreases their blood glucose level very suddenly which leads to hypoglycaemia.  [4, 5, 15]

Sorbitol, E 420

This sugar alcohol is an intermediate product in the carbohydrate processing of plants, especially big ammounts occur in dried fruit, but also in fresh plums, pears, cherries, peaches and apricots as well as in their fruit juice.

The extracted version is mainly used in chewing gum and tooth paste. It is made in the lab from enzymatically processed starch.

Sorbitol is half as sweet as sugar and has about 2,4 kcal/g.

People who have problems digesting fruit sugar (fructose) are most likely to react with intestinal symptoms to sorbitol occuring in fruit and sweetened food as well. [6, 7, 8]


Artificial Sweeteners

Crystals by cameraobscura  / pixelio.de
Crystals by cameraobscura / pixelio.de

The fact, that saccharine is also used in fodder for farmed animals makes me wonder if this substance could have effects on the appetit which increase craving for more food as well… This is a personal opinion, possible appetite increasing machanisms are being investigated hence there is not enough evidence to give an official statement.

Acesulfame K, E 950

 This energy-free sweetener is derived from acetoacetic acid & is resistant to heat, so it can be used for baked goods and cooking. The ADI is set at 9mg/kg  and it is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is not only utilised as sweetener, but also in medication and oral hygiene products. [16]


Neotame, E 961


Further chemical alteration of aspartame leads to this sweetener, which is 10.000 times sweeter than sucrose (ADI: 2 mg/kg). [14] 

Plums by H-j Spengemann  / pixelio.de
Plums by H-j Spengemann / pixelio.de

Saccharin, E 954 

This artificial sweetener tastes about 500 times sweeter than sucrose and does not provide the body with any energy. Besides the sweet taste, it also has bitter and metallic flavours which increase with the amount used.

Food safety agencies set the ADI (acceptable daily intake) at 5 mg/kg body mass, because they assume that no negative effects occur after the intake of less than this dose. When fed to rats in high amounts there is a connection with cancer of the urinary bladder. However, scientific research established no association between saccharin consumption and carcinogenity in humans. Investigations show that it is excretet with the urine, unchanged. So it seems to leave the human body without reacting with anz other substances. Accordingly, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organization and the E.U. Scientific Committee for Food deem saccharin safe at „human levels of consumption“. [8, 10, 11, 12] 

Aspartame, E 951

This artificial sweetener is 200 times sweeter than sucrose, other than the sweeteners described before, it is not suitable for cooking and baking due to its instability to heat and acids.

Aspartame consists of methanol and two amino acids, called phenylalanin and aspartic acid, therefore it provides the body with about 4 kcal/g like all other proteins. But since it is used in very small amounts it doesn’t contribute a lot to nourishment, the ADI for aspartame is 40 mg/kg bodyweight.

The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) deemed aspartame uncritically edible, last in 2013. [13] 

Aspartame-Acesulfame Salt, E 963


The chemical bond of aspartame and acesulfame tastes sweeter than a mix of the two individual substances, 350 times sweeter than sucrose  [17] .


Cyclamate, E 952


This artificial sweetener, which can not be used for energy in the human body, is only 35 times sweeter than sucrose. Due to its boosting effect on other sweeteners it is used in mixtures of sweeteners. Cyclamate´s ADI is set at 7 mg/kg bodyweight, for chewing gums and candies its use is not permitted, in the USA this sweetener is banned because animal testing showed carcinogenic effects when used in high doses.  [18] 

Stevia & Steviolglycosides, E 960

Stevia has been a common sweetener for  indigenous people of South America, they used this plant to sweeten drinks and medicines.

White powder or liquid sweeteners contain only the extracted steviol glycosides - the sweet components from the stevia's leaves and are often mixed with other sweeteners, as stevia has a bitter aftertaste.

Dried stevia leaves are about 40 times sweeter than sucrose, the extracts taste about 300 times sweeter. China is providing a major amount of steva and steviol glycosides. [19]

Steviol glycosides are poorly absorbed in the body and pass through the upper gastrointestinal tract fully intact. Once steviol glycosides reach the colon, gut bacteria convert steviol glycosides into steviol. Steviol is then metabolized by the liver before being excreted in the urine.

Research has shown that there is no accumulation of stevia (or byproduct of stevia) in the body during metabolism. This is due to the poor absorption in the digestive tract, accordingly stevia has zero calories and does not raise blood glucose or insulin levels. Stevia sweeteners are safe for people of all ages and populations and an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 4 milligrams per kilogram body weight has been established.

The majority of scientific research on stevia uses high purity stevia extracts. Confusion had resulted in the past when research conclusions about stevia were drawn based on studies testing crude stevia extracts. [20]

My conclusion?

If you really want to lose weight and used to eat a lot of sweets, sweeteners with less calories than sugar - being polyols and artificial sweeteners - can be one step towards your weight loss goals. To adapt a healthy lifestyle, it should be your next goal to reduce the use of sweet food in general. Since these products do not only contain sugar, but also a lot of fat, hence are small portions of high caloric value which in general will not make you feel full. Keep them rare and special, like a slice of birthday cake or a scoop of ice cream on a city trip as occasional treats.


For diabetics, the artificial sweeteners can be a way to spare them insuline injections for greater amounts of carbs, but again the products in which they are used often include other ingredients which should not be consumed in large amounts on a regular basis. So enjoy alternatively sweetened cookies, pastries and desserts like the usual version: As rare treats.

Alternative Sugary Sweeteners

Agave & maple syrup, honey, coconut blossom sugar or other items which are praised as rich in certain nutrients, healthier than refined sugar or curing for several diseases are a great way to make money for so called "health food" companies. In my opinion they really are marketing gags, not more or less. If you really want to cut down on refined sugar, which is in my opinion also in these alternative sweet substances, you can try dried fruits like dates as alternative! They do contain some fibre (at least 10% of the amount used) and you can use them in cakes if you soak (boil) and puree them. What I want to say in general, is that only if a product, which should actually only be used in small amounts (like all sweeteners) is advertised as healthy, this doesn't mean that you should consume it without boundaries every day. ADIs and tummy aches show, that there is an upper limit for low-calorie sweeteners, an increasing waistline and the risk of toothaches should again be a sign that sugar & sugar containing sweeteners are only to be enjoyed in small amounts and with caution. For ways, to reward or treat yourself without any extra calories, you can check out my tips here!

Thank you for reading & have a sweet rest of the day!

Sources Sources Sources Sources Sources Sources Sources Sources Sources Sources Sources Sources Sources Sources Sources Sources Sources Sources


1 http://www.worldstopexports.com/sugar-exports-country/

2 http://www.eufic.org/page/en/page/FAQ/faqid/glucose-fructose-syrup/

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22436/

4 http://www.zusatzstoffe-online.de/zusatzstoffe/301.e967_xylit.html

5 https://www.xucker.de/wissenswertes-ueber-xucker/xylit-herstellung/

6 http://www.zusatzstoffe-online.de/zusatzstoffe/157.e420_sorbit.html

7 http://www.chemieunterricht.de/dc2/r-oh/sorbit.htm

8 http://dr-hinterleitner.at/service/sorbitintoleranz.php


10 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3185898/

11 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2202324

12 http://www.zusatzstoffe-online.de/zusatzstoffe/294.e954_saccharin.html 

13 http://www.zusatzstoffe-online.de/zusatzstoffe/291.e951_aspartam.html

14 http://www.zusatzstoffe-online.de/zusatzstoffe/334.e961_neotam.html

15 http://xylitol.org/about-xylitol/corn-xylitol-vs-birch-xylitol/

16  http://www.zusatzstoffe-online.de/zusatzstoffe/290.e950_acesulfam_k.html

17  http://www.zusatzstoffe-online.de/zusatzstoffe/298.e962_aspartam_acesulfamsalz.html

18 http://www.zusatzstoffe-online.de/zusatzstoffe/292.e952_cyclamat.html

19 http://www.zusatzstoffe-online.de/zusatzstoffe/333.e960_steviolglycoside.html, https://draxe.com/stevia-side-effects/, http://www.livescience.com/39601-stevia-facts-safety.html

20 http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/287251.php


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