Types of Sweeteners: Which is Healthier?

With the wide variety of sweeteners that are out there, it's hard to know which is the best. Here, we'll explore the possibilities and let you know what science has to say.

Last update: 20 January, 2021

The fact that sugar isn’t good for your health isn’t new news. However, it’s also not new news that everyone loves sweet things. Therefore, we’re all on the search for alternatives in order to satisfy our cravings while also being good to our bodies. Here, we’ll give you a breakdown of the different types of alternative sweeteners that are out there.

Many artificial sweeteners are widely discussed these days. This is due to the fact that many studies have come to light suggesting that these sweeteners could have negative impacts on health in the long term. It’s clear that they affect the gut microbiome, and some even may increase the risk of certain cancers. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these studies aren’t yet conclusive with regards to these points.

Types of sweeteners

First up on our list of most widely used sweeteners is natural sugar. This ingredient has been shown to be harmful to health when it’s consumed in excess, especially in sedentary populations.

In the case of athletes, most can tolerate a higher quantity of sugar than the normal population. This is due to the fact that sugar is a high energy ingredient, and athletes burn more calories in certain activities.

To the detriment of sugar, many years ago people began to use saccharine, an artificial sweetener. Early testing in animals showed that saccharine was carcinogenic. However, studies haven’t yet confirmed this in humans.

Either way, experts are certain that the impact of saccharine on a person’s metabolic health is substantial. It can reduce resistance to insulin by altering the microbiome.

The newest generation of sweeteners is stevia and aspartame. The first, despite being natural, is usually mixed with large doses of saccharine.

In the case of aspartame, there’s no real agreement in terms of its effects. Despite many studies showing that it’s not metabolized by the body, others assure that it’s able to negatively affect the gut flora. One example is this study published by the journal, Advances in Nutrition.

Finally, we should mention other natural options. Honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar are often lauded as good natural alternatives to sweeten. All of these ingredients contain a large quantity of sugar in their composition, which makes them the same as table sugar. They really don’t offer any significant nutritional advantage to table sugar, and there’s no real reason to prioritize these over table sugar, except in recipes where you’d prefer their flavor.

Types of sweeteners: which do you choose?

Taking into account all of the facts presented above, it’s clearly difficult to choose the healthiest sweetener. None of the options are particularly healthy. 

Sugar itself has been shown to have negative properties, and artificial sweeteners can damage the gut flora in the long term. Although there remain some doubts about certain studies of artificial sweeteners, the most recommended course of action is to proceed with caution.

In order to safeguard a good state of health, it’s worth noting that it’s better to reduce the amount of sweets that you consume in general. When it comes time to sweetening your recipes and dishes, the best thing to do is to use pieces of fruit. This way, when the body gets the additional benefit of fiber from the fruit, it can help to diminish the impact of sugar on the body.

Always prioritize fresh foods

What is clear is that it’s absolutely necessary to reduce your intake of processed sweets. These foods, in addition to containing sugar and sweeteners, are also made up of trans fats and additives. These substances can further highlight the negative effects of carbohydrates and produce a state of inflammation that’s damaging for health.

The best thing to do is to always prioritize fresh foods. If you have a sweet tooth, include more fresh fruits in your diet! This gives you a wider variety of vitamins and fiber in your diet.

Types of sweeteners: be cautious

When it comes time to choosing your sweeteners, it’s best to be cautious, especially in the case of artificial sweeteners. These laboratory-made ingredients haven’t been sufficiently studied in order to ensure their safety in the long term. In fact, recent studies have even recommended against their consumption.

Either way, there’s a lifestyle that can make the consumption of sugar less harmful for your health. Regularly exercising reduces your risk of insulin resistance and diabetes risk.

Remember that strength training uses glucose as its primary fuel. Therefore, if you’re an athlete, your body can withstand a slightly higher daily intake of sugar than a sedentary person. But don’t go crazy!

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  • Jensen T., Abdelmalek MF., Sullivan S., Nadeau KJ., et al., Fructose and sugar: a major mediator of non alcoholic fatty liver disease. J Hepatol, 2018. 68 (5): 1063-1075.
  • Ruiz Ojeda FJ., Plaza Díaz J., Saez Lara MJ., Gil A., Effect of sweeteners on the gut microbiota: a review of experimental studies and clinical trials. Adv Nutr, 2019.