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Getting to Know Sugar and Other Sweeteners

You probably think that sugar is something quite simple. It’s sweet, and you use to make other things sweet. How complex can that be?

Well, it’s not, but sugar is actually a collective name; it’s a single name that describes a variety of different types. Here are three of the major categories of sugar…

Table Sugar

Table sugar, or white sugar, is the most common type of sugar. It is highly refined, is granulated and is the one most people would use to sweeten their coffee or tea and add to recipes in baking and cooking. Table sugar has received a bad rap in its association with obesity and diabetes1,2.

Artificial or synthetic sweeteners

These types of sweeteners sound like a good idea to include in the diet over traditional sugars because they typically contain zero calories, however, the research on synthetic sweeteners has not always been very positive when it comes to the effects they have on your health. One concern is how they may affect taste perception to sweet things. Because they’re generally far sweeter than table sugar, for example, they may increase the need for sweeter foods3,4.

Natural sweeteners

Nature provides us with a number of sweeteners that are far better for your health. The most common you’ll likely know about is stevia. While it’s the go-to for many people because of its safety profile and insulin lowering properties, some find that it leaves a very bitter aftertaste5. There are also sugar alcohols, such as erythritol. While they don’t cause a spike in blood sugar, the research on the long term effects of sugar alcohols isn’t clear6. Yacon root syrup is quickly becoming a popular choice. It has been shown to help with weight loss, and has a positive effect on gut bacteria while bringing sweetness to food and beverages7,8

Sweetened foods have been linked to negative health implications. When you’re looking for something sweet, it’s best to opt for more natural varieties – in moderation, of course – that have properties that contribute to your health in addition to providing that sweet taste.


  1. Ma, Y., et al. Gradual reduction of sugar in soft drinks without substitution as a strategy to reduce overweight, obesity, and type 2 diabetes: a modelling study. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. 2016. 4(2):105-114.
  2. Veerman, J., et al. The Impact of a Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages on Health and Health Care Costs: A Modelling Study. PLoS One. 2016.
  3. Mayo Clinic Staff. Nutrition and healthy eating. The Impact of a Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages on Health and Health Care Costs: A Modelling Study. 2018.
  4. Harvard Health Publishing School. Artificial sweeteners: sugar-free, but at what cost? 2012.
  5. Geeraert, B., et al. Stevioside inhibits atherosclerosis by improving insulin signaling and antioxidant defense in obese insulin-resistant mice. Int J Obes (Lond). 2010 Mar;34(3):569-77.
  6. Noda, K., et al. Serum glucose and insulin levels and erythritol balance after oral administration of erythritol in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1994 Apr;48(4):286-92.
  7. da Silva, M., et al. Yacon syrup: Food applications and impact on satiety in healthy volunteers. Food Research International. 2017. 100(1):460-467.
  8. Adriano, L., et al. Yacon syrup reduces postprandial glycemic response to breakfast: A randomized, crossover, double-blind clinical trial. Food Research International. 2019. 126:108682.

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