Sugar-Free Foods: Good or Bad?

by in Healthy Tips, May 20, 2011
Artificial Sugars
Artificial sugars may be virtually calorie-free, but should still be consumed in moderation.

They’re marketed as healthier, lower-calorie alternatives to your favorite sugary treats, but are sugar-free foods actually better for you? Well…maybe and maybe not. We’ve got the details on the good and bad of sugar-free foods.


What’s Replacing Sugar?
Some artificial sweeteners are calorie-free, while others come along with a small amount of calories per serving (but those calories can add up if you eat them often). The most popular sweeteners are still those blue, pink and yellow packets, along with the newest sweetener on the block called stevia. When used as food additives, you’ll see them on ingredient lists as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose and rebiana.

No matter which type you choose, all faux sweeteners are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. Despite claims that they’re made from sugar or come from a natural plant source, all have undergone some type of chemical process before they reach your lips. Though research is limited, eating too much of these types of chemically treated sugars has been linked to adverse side effects including stomach upset, blood sugar control issues and increased risk of some types of cancer. Some research also suggests that eating excessive amounts of chemically-sweetened foods will entice the brain to want sugary (and typically less healthy) foods more often – not helpful for the quality of your diet or your waistline.

Read more about the specific dangers associated with popular artificial sweeteners and stevia.

Endless Options
Once only used in a limited number of foods, artificial sweeteners are now lurking in everything from diet sodas and juices to cookies and salad dressings. Manufacturers of light ice creams, low-cal yogurts and diet fruit juices often use artificial sweeteners along with added sugars to cut down on calories. So just because something isn’t labeled “sugar-free” doesn’t mean it won’t contain fake sweeteners.

To confuse things ever further, many foods that do use artificial sweeteners exclusively aren’t always lower in fat or calories than their sugar-containing counterparts. Some brands of sugar free frozen treats, candies and cookies have very similar calorie counts despite their lack of sugar.

Special Needs
There is a time and a place for artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners allow for some additional options for those that suffer from diabetes or folks trying to cut back on sugary food overload. But option for sugar-free alternatives shouldn’t be viewed as a free pass to eat sugar-free fare day in and day out for the reasons mentioned above.

Bottom Line: At 15 calories per teaspoon, a small amount of regular sugar here and there can be worked into anyone’s healthy diet. If you do choose to use artificial sweeteners to help with diabetes, weight management and calorie control, do so in moderation and check ingredient lists — your intake of artificial sweeteners may be more substantial than you think.

TELL US: What’s your take on the faux sugars?

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana’s full bio »

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Comments (1,252)

  1. Alicia says:

    When it comes to eating sugar, I go for the real deal. It's just hard for me to imagine that the faux sugars can be any good for you since they're artificial. It seems unnatural!

  2. feerlessfood says:

    I avoid them. I've found they can create GI distress for me which hurts my training, plus it seems like there have been studies that link fake sugars to cancer.

  3. Sofia says:

    I stay away from artificial sweeteners. There is a reason the human body reacts the way it does to sugar and sugar-substitutes should not be used to fool our bodies into thinking we can eat sugar all day long. That is why I use a real sugar for crunchy, fruity granola http://saborlatinorecipes.com/1-powerful-post-wor… and my whole family loves it!

  4. Elizabeth says:

    The one thing not mentioned in the article is how bad sweeteners are for the liver. Upon learning I had hepatitis c from an operation i had in the 80's, my doctor warned me not to use sweeteners because of the damage it could do to my liver.

  5. denise says:

    I avoid them.

  6. Momma says:

    My children are very healthy and in the appropriate weight range and they do not eat artificial sweeteners. Several families that live around us have heavy children and they use articficial sweetners all the time.

  7. bob says:

    granny's right..totally agree. moderation is key.

  8. This info confirm my thoughts of no sugar does a body good. Love the blog

  9. [...] means sabotaging flavor, you’re sorely mistaken. Typically foods that are manufactured to be free of sugar and fat are tasteless. Even worse, they are often misconceived to be calorie free, which is often [...]

  10. [...] means sabotaging flavor, you’re sorely mistaken. Typically foods that are manufactured to be free of sugar and fat are tasteless. Even worse, they are often misconceived to be calorie free, which is often [...]

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