The Best and Worst Sweeteners for Your Health

Paul T. Mitchell, C.S.C.S*D, Pn1

Ok, here’s the deal with artificial sweeteners. The most common non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) are substances with a very intense sweet taste. Some of these sweeteners can range from 100’s of times sweeter than sugar, to 1000’s of times sweeter. They’re used in small amounts to replace the sweetness of a much higher amount of sugar, or of other derivative substances, which is a good thing in general. You use less and they provide fewer calories, right?

Well, here where the problem comes in. “When we eat sweet foods the brain’s reward system — called the mesolimbic dopamine system — gets activated. Dopamine is a brain chemical released by neurons and can signal that an event was positive. When the reward system fires, it reinforces behaviours — making it more likely for us to carry out these actions again.” (1) So, when we eat sugar, a signal gets sent to the brain to prepare the cells that glucose is coming to provide us with energy. But, because these artificial sweeteners generally either never make it into the bloodstream to be delivered to the cell, or very little does, your cells are then confused. The taste buds sensed sugar, the signal was sent to the brain, the cells were prepared, but no glucose. 

So what happens? The cells send a signal back to the brain saying, “hey, we didn’t get the sugar (energy)! Give us some more!

Now, what happens? You crave more sugar. Are you one of those people who eat dinner and crave sweets afterwards? Do you eat sweets, and feel like you want more? Some of this may be due to the effects of long-term use of artificial sweeteners. 

The second problem is the data from various studies which link these sweeteners to things such as headaches, diarrhea, and upset stomach. Some doctors will blame more serious conditions all the way up to cancer on artificial sweeteners, but the hard cause and effect evidence is far from certain. There needs to be more research done. 

Here are the most common artificial sweeteners:

  • Acesulfame K (brand names: Sunett and Sweet One)
  • Advantame
  • Aspartame (two brand names: Equal and Nutrasweet)
  • Neotame (brand name: Newtame)
  • Saccharin (two brand names: Sweet ‘N Low and Sweet Twin)
  • Sucralose (brand name: Splenda)


Here are some healthier options:

  • Sugar – just be conscious of the amount you are taking in each meal and each day.
  • Stevia – again, less is more with this one also. Try to limit your use.
  • Honey – You only need a small amount to make foods, drinks taste great.
  • Maple syrup 
  • Molasses




You can find out much more about sugar, sweeteners and their effects on your health and fitness in our “L.E.A.N. Start” online course or our “Prime-Time Health” online course.