Alternatives to sugar

I want to lower my sugar intake, so I’m looking for a sugar substitute for my coffee. What are the different types of sweeteners?

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First, I want to congratulate you on your decision to lower your sugar intake. Lowering your sugar intake is a wise and healthy choice, as research shows that consuming too much sugar can increase your risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, some cancers, and heart disease.

If you want to lower your sugar intake from your coffee to zero, you could choose to drink it black.

But, if you’d rather not do that, you aren’t alone. Some two-thirds of coffee drinkers and one-third of tea drinkers add milk, cream, sugar, flavorings, or other additives to their drink, according to a study from the University of Illinois. Interestingly, the study found that more than 60% of the calories in those coffee drinkers’ beverages came from added sugar.

That’s not surprising, considering that it’s part of human nature to crave the sweet taste of sugar, writes Jenny Lobb, an educator in family and consumer sciences for Ohio State University Extension.

But, “the World Health Organization recommends consuming no more than 10% of your daily calories from added sugar,” Lobb wrote in All Things Sweet: Sugar and Other Sweeteners, an Ohioline fact sheet. “For someone who eats 2,000 calories a day, 10% of daily calories would be 200 calories, or 50 grams of added sugar a day.”

Ohioline is OSU Extension’s free online information resource and can be found at OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

With that in mind, it’s important to understand what sweeteners are.

“Sweeteners are classified in two different groups: nutritive sweeteners, also called caloric sweeteners or sugars, and non-nutritive sweeteners, which are also called sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners,” Lobb said.

Nutritive sweeteners include agave, brown sugar, powdered (confectioners’) sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt sugar, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, nectars, raw sugar, and syrup, she wrote.

Non-nutritive sweeteners are sugar substitutes that can be either naturally occurring or artificially made. Naturally occurring sugar substitutes include stevia and sugar alcohols, which include, among others, erythritol, used as a bulk sweetener in low-calorie foods, and sorbitol, used in some sugar-free candies, gums, frozen desserts, and baked goods, Lobb wrote.

“Artificial sweeteners are man-made sweeteners that contain no calories or sugar,” she wrote. “Currently, there are six different artificial sweeteners that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has thoroughly tested and approved for use.”

Those, Lobb said, include:

  • acesulfame-K, sold under the brand names of Sunett, Sweet One, and others
  • advantame
  • aspartame, sold under the brand names of Equal and Nutrasweet
  • neotame
  • saccharin, sold under the brand names of Sweet’N Low, Necta Sweet, and others
  • sucralose, sold under the brand name of Splenda

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Jenny Lobb, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

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