Is sugar bad for you? Or is sweeteners bad for you?

We often hear many opinions on weather to use sweetener vs. sugar.  It is no wonder we are torn between what is best for weight loss and still good for you.  This article is a short breakdown to look at the facts and make a educated decision when deciding what to use for your health.

What’s the difference?

So we are looking at two different types of substance, nutritive and non-nutritive.

Nutritive sweetening agents contain carbohydrates and provide energy. Nutritive sweetening agents are either sugars that give 4kcal/g, or sugar alcohols (polyols), which provide an average of 2kcal/g. Non-nutritive sweetening agents provide no energy or calories when consumed but offer a taste similar to sugar (nutritive sweetener)

  • Nutritive sweetening agents

Sugar is a natural sweet substance of plant origin and is 100% carbohydrate and 100% natural. Sugar is also classified as a “simple” sugar. Simple sugars are made up from different types of building blocks such as glucose (most common and found mostly in starchy foods), fructose (found in fruits) and galactose (found in milk products).

Sucrose is what makes honey, syrup, fruit, table sugar, icing sugar etc. sweet.  Sugars we cook with or add to food/drinks have gone through a process to and are highly refined. Sugar will provide 4kcal/g energy but table sugar can be referred to as an empty calorie as it provides only calories but no other nutrients such as protein, fats, fibre or vitamins and minerals.

On a side note: By adding unnecessary sugar to our food we increase our daily energy intake but there is no other “nutritional” benefits eg. vitamins, fibre etc.  which is essentially what we need to avoid.  

Some of the nutritive sweetening agents that aren’t very well understood are brown sugar, molasses, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Brown sugar is the very similar to white table sugar but has had molasses or burnt table sugar added to it for colouring.

Did you know brown sugar is also an empty calorie and is not healthier than white table sugar?  

  • Non-nutritive sweetening agents

Non-nutritive sweetening agents (NNS) are sweeteners that sweeten with minimal or no carbohydrates.

Examples are stevia, aspartame, saccharin, sucralose etc. They are a large percent sweeter than normal sucrose sugar so often a lot less is needed to achieve the same level of sweetness.

The question most consumers ask is whether or not sweeteners are safe to use?  According to The American Diabetes Association Sugar alcohols and non-nutritive sweeteners are safe when consumed within the daily intake levels established by the Food and Drug Administration”. Recommendations for management of diabetes include monitoring carbohydrate intake and so blood glucose control, and therefore if using NNS instead of nutritive sweeteners will help in that control then ADA supports them. The National Cancer Institute stated in 2009 that there is no clear evidence that the NNS that were available in the U.S were associated with any cancer risks. 

The risks of sugar

A higher intake of added sugars is associated with higher energy intake and lower diet quality, which can increase the risk for obesity, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, dental caries and cardiovascular disease.

The use of non-nutritive sweeteners can help by lowering your calorie intake for the day, has no effect on your blood glucose levels and so reduces your risks for those lifestyle diseases as well as assists in weight management. (if taken in moderation)

I did come across some information that suggests that sweeteners might make you fat and looked into this as well.  Read the full article here. 

Written by Brigitte Willers
I am a working mom from Cape Town. I am passionate about fitness, all things self help and DIY. I like to figure it out and share as I go along, after all we are all just trying to figure this life out. I am all about women helping each other to excel whether its in work, play, or health and fitness. I am a qualified with the Health and Fitness Professional association, I have chosen not to use it as a career path but rather to help women achieve their goals via this blog. My work/business is Project Management in the FMCG and Entertainment Sector ( My true passion is music, nature, animals, helping others and most importantly my family. I am quite a philosophical mess (on the light side) and on a great adventure of finding my true self, like most of us (except maybe mermaids and unicorns because they know exactly who they are) Why don't you join me on this exciting journey and we can do it together, I promise I will make you laugh and you won't get bored.