Artificial Sweeteners: What’s the Hype Really About?

It’s no secret that there is always a lot of hype around artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes. Some will say they’re terrible for you, while others will argue that anything in moderation is fine. Because it’s one of the my most frequently asked questions, I thought I’d break down my thoughts for you! 

If you’ve ever made one of my dessert recipes, there’s a good chance the recipe called for Swerve. I use Swerve granular sweetener, brown sugar, and confectioner sugar to sweeten the desserts in almost all of my sweets recipes. Swerve is a natural sweetener, just like sugar. Unlike artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose, Swerve Sweetener is made only from natural ingredients and contains no artificial ingredients, preservatives or flavors. The secret to the zero calorie sweetness is a combination of erythritol and oligosaccharides which provide excellent baking and cooking functionality. And with the ability to brown and caramelize, Swerve makes a great all around substitute for sugar. 

Three Types of Sugar Substitutes

To start, I thought it would be helpful to break down the three types of sugar substitutes first. 

1. Artificial Sweeteners 

Artificial sweeteners are a synthetic sugar substitute. Many are derived from natural substances and are much sweeter than sugar itself. Artificial sweeteners add virtually zero calories to the recipes they are included in. 

Examples of artificial sweeteners include aspartame (Equal), saccharine, and sucralose (Splenda). 

2. Sugar Alcohols 

Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables – although they can also be manufactured. Don’t be fooled – despite the name, sugar alcohols are not alcoholic. Sugar alcohols are not typically as sweet as sugar and aren’t as intense as artificial sweeteners. Sugar alcohols do contain calories, but they are much lower than sugar. If you’re curious how to track sugar alcohols, we will break that down below.

Examples of sugar alcohols include erythritol (Truvia), Swerve, and Allulose. 

3. Natural Sweeteners 

Natural sweeteners are often promoted as the “safer” or “healthier” sugar substitute. However, even these alternatives typically go through some type of processing and refining. 

Examples of natural sweeteners include stevia, monk fruit, honey, molasses, maple syrup or fruit juices/nectars. 

But Aren’t Sugar Substitutes Bad for You?

Artificial Sweeteners and sugar substitutes haven’t always gotten the best rap. For years they’ve been criticized and have even been linked to cancer. However, according to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies, there’s no scientific evidence backing up those claims. A lot of people also criticize artificial sweeteners saying that they lead to digestive issues. Fortunately, digestive issues are only likely to occur when artificial sweeteners are consumed in large amounts. This is why moderation is key! Also, everyone’s tolerance will vary person to person, just like with any other food/allergen. I can personally say I have not experienced any issues with Swerve, and that is why I continue to use it in my recipes! However, if you know a particular sweetener works better for you, please feel free to substitute!

But let’s not just focus on the bad. There are actually quite a few benefits linked to artificial sweeteners:

Less Calories Than Sugar

Because artificial sweeteners contribute essentially zero calories to a recipe, you can make and enjoy sweets and desserts for much fewer calories than with baking with traditional sugar. Whether you’re new to macros or are a seasoned expert, you probably realize one of the greatest benefits of macro counting is that everything “fits”, including sweets and desserts! But sometimes you might want to lighten up your dessert so you have more room in your day for other delicious recipes. 

Diabetes 

Since artificial sweeteners aren’t carbohydrates, they generally don’t raise blood sugar levels. This can be important in helping people who suffer from diabetes still be able to enjoy sweetened things, with less risk to their health. However, if you suffer from diabetes, please consult your doctor or healthcare provider for guidance regarding artificial sweeteners. 

Don’t Have to Use As Much

Artificial sweeteners are also much sweeter than traditional sugar. When using or baking with artificial sweeteners, you typically only need a fraction of the amount of sugar called for. For more information on how to convert the amount of sugar for sweetener, check out the chart below!

FDA Approved

Artificial sweeteners are approved by the FDA. This means the FDA has declared that artificial sweeteners are safe to consume in reasonable amounts. If you are curious about the recommended daily amounts, I encourage you to check out the FDA website found here

How and When to Track Artificial Sweetener

You might have also noticed that I do not, nor have I ever, included artificial sweeteners in the macros when calculating the nutrition facts for a recipe. Why you might ask? Let me explain!

On the nutrition label, the carbs listed represent the sugar alcohol (erythritol) in the Swerve sweetener. Sugar alcohols are not completely absorbed by the body during digestion, which means the body does not get as many calories or carbohydrates from these. Erythritol (aka Swerve) has the lowest calorie content of any sugar alcohol at 0–0.2 calories per gram. This means that the amount actually processed by the body is very minimal, and in my opinion just not worth the calculation or mental headache. 

For example, if we take the high end of what research says is actually absorbed (0.2 calories per gram) and we had a recipe that had 1/4 cup (48g) of Swerve sweetener, that would mean that the Swerve only added 9.6 calories to the ENTIRE recipe (not just per serving). If you are diligently tracking for a specific goal or reason, it might be worth the extra step to include those calories into your overall recipe. However, for the majority of us, it will not make a difference, thus not worth the extra task of estimating and calculating the Swerve’s impact. 

You Decide

I hope this information was helpful in clearing up some of the confusion surrounding artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes! As mentioned before, I personally have not experienced any negative side effects from using Swerve in my recipes and I think it’s just so important to remember, as with anything else, moderation is key! For more yummy, delicious, and lightened up dessert recipes be sure to check out my latest Sweets Cookbook or the latest recipes on my blog!

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