The amount of sugar we consume as society is just too much. Sugar is suspected to be the ultimate cause of high blood presure, heart disease, liver disease, and diabetes. In fact, it’s predicted that 1/3 people will be diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in the next 30 years. (Learn the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes.)
With so many different sweetener options out there, that leaves many asking the question, ‘Which sweetener is best?’
First, let me explain the difference between a ‘natural sugar’ and ‘natural sweetener’.
A natural sugar is a sugar that is in the good as it is grown. A natural sweetener is a sugar that can be found naturally (sugar, honey, etc) but is still added into foods.
In this two part post, you will learn:
- What are the classes of sweeteners
- How sweeteners interact with your body
- The difference between these sweeteners
- The health risks or benefits of each sweetener
- My own opinion and use of sweeteners
- Which sweetener is best
What are the classes of sweeteners?
Below is a table listing difference classes of sweeteners, and examples of each. [1,2]
How Sweeteners Interact With Our Bodies
How Is Sugar Metabolized?
Sucrose is a disaccharide. In simple terms, there are two parts to the sugar. When sucrose is digested, it breaks down into glucose and fructose.
In the body, glucose gives the body energy, and is regulated by insulin.
Fructose produces glycogen, triglyceride, and cholesterol in the liver.
Some fructose is used for energy production (glycogen), but excess is converted to liver fat which can get sent to the bloodstream (triglycerides). When the liver gets overwhelmed, insulin resistance can develop. This can cause fatty liver disease, diabetes, and heart disease. 
Glycemic index is a measure of how much a food raises a person’s blood glucose, where glucose is defined as 100. Generally, you’d want to eat lower GI foods. 
GI may not be the best method for determining what foods you should eat, because it doesn’t take fructose into account at all.
What’s the difference between these sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners were synthesized so that they would not be absorbed by the human body, thus rendering them non-caloric. They are much sweeter than regular sugar. This is because of the way the molecule reacts with taste buds. They are sweeter because they can have a stronger interaction with our taste buds than regular sugar can.
Artificial sweeteners have a GI of 0, which makes people think they are okay. They were ‘recommended’ for diabetic patients, because they are not carbohydrates and would not increase their blood glucose levels.
Use of artificial sweeteners can be limited in cooking. Because they have different properties, they can cook differently than natural sugars. 
All natural sweeteners can be extracted or created from a plant. Caloric impact is approximately the same for all sweeteners, however their chemical make-up can be different, making some of them better than others.
Sucrose is technically a natural sweetener, as it is made from cane sugar or sugar beet juice.
Other natural sugars that are looked at as healthier alternative to sucrose include:
- maple syrup
The health benefits of sweeteners like honey, molasses and maple syrup include antioxidants, complex carbohydrates and amino acids. [2,4]
While their caloric impact is the same as sucrose, the GI is lower for the healthier natural sweeteners. We have to consider, though, that some of these other natural sweeteners have higher percentages of fructose. Agave, for example, can be up to 90% fructose. 
For some, the debate is ongoing whether or not we can look at some of these alternatives as truly healthier or not.
Sugar alcohols are reduced-calorie sweeteners that are manufactured from sugar, or extracted from a plant.
Sugar alcohols are usually less sweet than sugar. They can be extracted from plants or manufactured (aka synthesized). They are most generally used as sweeteners in processed candies and desserts for filler and texture.
They are also not all calorie free, and are metabolized in the body more slowly than sucrose. The reason the GI is lower than sugar is because your body is not able to completely absorb sugar alcohols, so they have a different effect.
Novel or new sweeteners include Stevia and Tagatose. Stevia can be found naturally, while tagatose is a manufactured product of lactose.
Stevia is the most common ‘novel sweetener,’ and originated in South America. Rebaudioside A is the version of Stevia that tastes the best. Scientists were able to isolate this molecule from the stevia plant. Stevia could technically be a natural sweetener, but it’s placed in this category because it’s caloric properties are so different.
Stevia can have a bad aftertaste if used in larger quantities. Some stevia blends like Truvia use a sugar alcohol blend to remove this aftertaste. Stevia is 200 times sweeter than sugar. 
Tagatose is another novel sweetener that is similar to fructose, but has a slightly different chemical structure. This structure difference prevents tagatose from binding to digestive enzymes the way fructose is, so it is not fully metabolized. Tatatose exists in very small amounts in nature, so it is synthesized from lactose in milk processing. 
Tagatose is 1.5 calories/g, compared to 4 cal/g for sucrose. Tagatose seems to be one of the better options for baking and cooking in terms of textural properties.
Move on to Part 2!
References not linked above
 Ritter, Stephen K. The Case Against Sugar. C&EN Magazine, August 4, 2014, pg. 11-17.