Last updated: August 30, 2021

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A sugar substitute is a product that tries to imitate the sweet taste and sweetening power of sucrose, known as common sugar. Unlike the latter, a substitute does not provide energy, nor does it promote tooth decay, nor does it raise blood sugar levels. The healthiest alternatives are erythritol, birch sugar (xylitol) and stevia.

Although sugar substitutes are massively used to facilitate weight loss, these sweeteners help prevent diseases linked to sugar consumption, such as hypertriglyceridemia, type II diabetes, and nonalcoholic fatty liver. What is the best sugar substitute for you? Keep reading to find out!

Key Facts

  • A sugar substitute is designed to replace the flavor and sweetening capacity of sucrose (table sugar). Some also mimic the grainy texture and can even caramelize when heated to high temperatures.
  • The healthiest alternatives to sugar are xylitol (birch sugar), erythritol, and stevia. They help with weight loss, do not increase blood glucose and do not contribute to diseases related to excessive consumption of sugar, such as tooth decay, high triglycerides, type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  • In order to choose the best sugar substitute, you should consider the following purchase criteria: presentation, taste, ability to cook, sweetening power and digestive tolerance.

Our Selection: The Best Sugar Substitutes

There are natural and artificial, liquid and granulated, caloric and non-caloric substitutes for sugar. In this guide we will focus on sweeteners that have very few (or zero) calories. We have analyzed the products on the market that meet this criteria and have the following choices to choose from:

Shopping Guide: Everything You Need to Know about Sugar Substitutes

Given the great variety of sugar substitutes that exist in the market, you should understand their nutritional profiles, health benefits and uses in the kitchen. All the information that we will go over in this section will be useful to differentiate the types of substitutes and make the most of these products.

Man drinkin while searching his cellphone

Sugar substitutes can be classified according to their origin (natural or artificial), their energy supply (nutritious or non-nutritive) or their sweetening power.
(Source: Gstockstudio: 43008744/

What is a sugar substitute?

A sugar substitute is a product capable of providing sweet flavor to food and drinks, whose energy contribution (calories) is low or none at all. It can be natural or artificial. Also, unlike regular sugar, a substitute does not damage teeth or cause elevations in blood glucose levels (1, 2).

Are all sugar substitutes calorie free?

All sugar substitutes are characterized by having fewer calories than sucrose (common sugar). However, some of them have some calories, for example, xylitol or birch sugar, which has the same sweetening power as sugar, but has half the calories, does not promote tooth decay and does not increase blood glucose (2).

Others, such as stevia or acesulfame K, are considered calorie-free because their sweetening power is much greater than that of common sugar and, therefore, they are used in very small quantities. To get calories from these types of substitutes you would need to consume kilograms, which is impossible (2.3).

Kayla McDonell, RDDietitian .
"Added sugar is probably the single worst ingredient in the modern diet.It has been associated with many serious diseases, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.What’s more, most people consume way too much sugar and often have no idea.".

What types of sugar substitutes are there?

Sugar substitutes can be classified according to their origin (natural or artificial), their energy supply (nutritious or non-nutritive) or their sweetening power. However, we have decided to distinguish them according to their ability to replace sugar, both in terms of sweetness and texture:

  • Body agents: They replace the common sugar in texture and volume. Polyalcohols, such as xylitol (birch sugar) and erythritol, polydextrose and inulin, are in this group. These last two are widely used in the food industry to replace the texture of sugar, but they are not very sweet (2). Xylitol and erythritol have almost the same sweetening power as sugar and their granular texture is identical. Xylitol is capable of caramelising when subjected to high temperatures. Body agents are generally of natural origin and used in the same proportion as regular sugar (2).
  • Intensive sweeteners: These substitutes can provide the sweetness of regular sugar, but not its texture or volume. They are used in very small quantities, since their sweetening power is 30 to 8000 times greater than that of common sugar. Stevia, acesulfame K, aspartame and saccharin are examples of this group (2, 3)

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What benefits can a sugar substitute have?

Although it is common to associate the use of a sugar substitute with a diet to lose weight, the health benefits of these types of products exceed their status "zero calories", such as explained below:

  1. They do not increase blood glucose levels. This is particularly beneficial for diabetics who cannot adequately regulate blood glucose when they eat sugar-sweetened beverages and solid foods (4).
  2. They do not promote the development of tooth decay, since, unlike common sugar, substitutes cannot be fermented by bacteria and lead to the formation of acids that damage tooth enamel and promote the accumulation of bacterial plaque. Furthermore, erythritol and xylitol prevent tooth decay and protect tooth enamel (5.6).
  3. They reduce the intake of simple sugars that only provide "empty calories", that is, they do not provide any essential nutrient, only energy and increased risk of obesity. When drinks and food are sweetened with sugar substitutes, these empty calories are avoided and this helps to lose weight and/or maintain a healthy weight (7).
  4. They reduce the risk of developing hypertriglyceridemia (high blood triglycerides) and non-alcoholic fatty liver, two metabolic disorders related to excessive sugar intake (8).
  5. They can provide the sweetness and texture of common sugar without causing negative health effects. This is very important for people with diabetes and those who follow a diet to lose weight, since they can enjoy sweet food without negatively affecting their blood glucose or body weight (9).

What are the best sugar substitutes?

The choice of the best sugar substitute depends on the consumer's preferences and the use. For example, in terms of taste, those that provide a sugar-like sweetness are erythritol and xylitol. Within intensive sweeteners, stevia is usually very accepted, although it may leave a slightly bitter taste.

Not all sweeteners can replace common sugar in desserts and pastries. In these cases, it is best to opt for xylitol or erythritol. You can also mix a bulking agent (erythritol) that has the texture and volume of sugar, with an intensive sweetener (stevia or aspartame) that provides sweetness.

spoon whith sugar on wooden table

A sugar substitute is designed to replace the flavor and sweetening capacity of sucrose (table sugar).
(Source: Morisfoto: 88862099/

What are the differences between erythritol, birch sugar (xylitol) and stevia?

Although these three sugar substitutes have a natural origin, there are great differences in terms of their sweetness, digestive tolerance, presentation and uses. In the following table, we show the distinctive characteristics of erythritol, birch sugar and stevia (10):

Body agents Intensive sweeteners
Examples Xylitol (birch sugar), erythritol, inulin. Stevia, acesulfame K, aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, neotame.
Do they have calories? Erythritol does not, but xylitol does provide 2.4 calories per gram. No.
Are they used the same as regular sugar? Yes, they are used in approximately the same proportion as regular sugar. No, they are used in very small quantities.
Do they have the same sweetening power as ordinary sugar? Yes, its sweetening capacity is equal to or even less than ordinary sugar. They have a sweetening power far superior to that of common sugar.
Eritritol Azúcar de Abedul (Xilitol) Stevia Origen Presente en frutas y alimentos fermentados. También se obtiene por fermentación de la glucosa mediante levaduras Moniliella pollinis. Corteza del árbol Abedul finlandés. El xilitol también se obtiene de la fermentación del maíz. Hojas de la planta Stevia rebaudiana. Poder endulzante relativo a la sacarosa (azúcar común) 0,75. 1 (Endulza exactamente igual que el azúcar común). 300. Aporte calórico 0,2 calorías por gramo. 2,4 calorías por gramo. 0 calorías por gramo. Forma de presentación Granulado. Granulado. Granulado y líquido. Sabor Similar al azúcar. Idéntico al azúcar. Similar al azúcar, pero puede tener un gusto ligeramente amargo. Tolerancia digestiva Excelente. Puede producir efecto laxante si se superan los 50 gramos diarios. Muy buena. Precio promedio por kilogramo 12 a 16 euros. 13 a 28 euros. 15 a 19 euros.
Erythritol Birch Sugar (Xylitol) Stevia Origin Present in fruits and fermented foods. It is also obtained by fermentation of glucose using Moniliella pollinis yeasts. Bark of the Finnish Birch tree. Xylitol is also obtained from the fermentation of corn. Leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Sweetening power relative to sucrose (common sugar) 0.75. 1 (Sweeten exactly the same as ordinary sugar) . 300. Caloric intake 0.2 calories per gram. 2.4 calories per gram . 0 calories per gram. Presentation form Granulated. Granulated. Granulated and liquid. Flavor Similar to sugar. Identical to sugar. Similar to sugar, but may have a slightly bitter taste. Digestive tolerance Excellent. It can produce a laxative effect if it exceeds 50 grams daily. Very good.

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Are artificial sugar substitutes carcinogenic?

The possible carcinogenic effects of artificial sugar substitutes have long been studied, but no conclusive results exist. Aspartame, acesulfame K, saccharin and sucralose are currently the most widely used artificial sweeteners (10).

Sodium cyclamate has been banned in the United States for almost 50 years because of its association with bladder cancer. Aspartame has also been the subject of complaints to the health authorities, but its use is still authorized. For this reason, we recommend natural sweeteners, such as stevia, xylitol, and erythritol, which appear to be safer (1.10).

Can children have sugar substitutes?

Currently, children and adolescents can ingest sugar substitutes in moderation and these products can even be beneficial in cases of diabetes, obesity and other metabolic disorders. Saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame K and sucralose are ok, as are more natural substitutes, such as stevia (11).

For a long time, the medical community was reluctant to recommend the consumption of sugar substitutes in children.

For a long time, the medical community was reluctant to recommend the consumption of sugar substitutes in children.

However, research has not shown a positive association between consumption of artificial sweeteners and the prevalence of childhood cancer, learning disabilities, attention deficit, allergies, or behavior disorders (11).

In any case, it is necessary to moderate the consumption of the substitutes during childhood because their intense sweet taste can alter the gustatory perception in children and make them have a predilection for very sweet foods. This means that just because a drink is sweetened with saccharin or stevia, doesn't mean it can be consumed on demand by children.

Yellow bowl with sugar

Given the great variety of sugar substitutes that exist in the market, it is recommended to investigate their nutritional profiles, health benefits and uses in the kitchen.
(Source: Photosiber: 39063832/

Buyer's Guide

Because there are many options for sweeteners, you need to find one that suits your preferences, needs and budget. You just have to spend a little time evaluating the following purchase criteria:

Form of Presentation

Sugar substitutes are marketed in different forms: granulated, liquid and as tablets. Ideally, for bakery and pastry products, opt for substitutes that mimic the texture and volume of sugar, for example, xylitol and erythritol. Liquid and tablet sweeteners are recommended for infusions and beverages.

Xylitol and erythritol are available in granules, while stevia, saccharin, and sucralose are available in liquid, granular, or tablet form. Granulated substitutes are also usually presented in small individual sachets that are very easy to transport, just like tablets.

Girl drinking juice

The choice of the best sugar substitute depends on the consumer's preferences and the use.
(Source: Melpomen: 81367442/


Once again, xylitol and erythritol polyols are the option chosen for having a flavor almost identical to that of ordinary sugar. However, stevia also tends to be highly accepted by consumers, although it may leave a bitter taste. High-dose saccharin gives a metallic flavor (10).

Aptitude for Cooking

Not all sugar substitutes withstand high temperatures well enough to be used in bakery and pastry products. The best sweeteners for cooking are stevia, sucralose, acesulfame K, xylitol, and erythritol (10). Xylitol can even caramelize just like regular sugar does.

Sweetening Power

The sweetening power is always defined in relation to the sweetening capacity of common sugar (sucrose). Bulking agents have a lower sweetening power, while intensive sweeteners are very sweet and are used in small amounts. Next, we go over the sweetening power of sugar and its substitutes (natural and artificial) (3, 10):

Sweetener Sweetening power
Sugar 1
Xylitol (Birch Sugar) 1
Erythritol 0.7
Stevia 300
Aspartame 180 to 200
Acesulfame K 200
Saccharin 300
Sucralose 600


Due to consumer preferences for sweets and mounting evidence of sugar's ill health effects, various substitutes have emerged to mimic the taste and texture of regular sugar. Stevia, xylitol, and erythritol are the healthiest sweeteners, but saccharin and sucralose are also widely consumed.

A sugar substitute is capable of sweetening drinks and solid foods, without adding calories or simple sugars. These products do not promote the development of tooth decay, and do not increase blood glucose and allow you to eat or drink something sweet without harming your health. They are highly recommended in cases of obesity and diabetes.

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(Source of featured image: Gayvoronskaya: 83874646/

References (12)

1. Aldrete-Velasco J et al. Analysis of the available evidence for the consumption of non-caloric sweeteners. Expert document [Internet]. Med Int Méx. 2017.

2. Socolovsky S. The role and safety of sugar substitutes [Internet]. 2007.

3. Durán S, Cordón K, Rodríguez M. Non-nutritive sweeteners, risks, appetite, and weight gain[Internet]. Rev Chil Nutr. 2013.

4. Timpe Behn E, Ferguson M, Carlson A. Do Sugar Substitutes Have Any Impact on Glycemic Control in Patients with Diabetes? [Internet]. Journal of Pharmacy Technology. 2013.

5. González Sanz A, González Nieto B, González Nieto E. Dental health: relationship between dental caries and food consumption [Internet]. 2013.

6. Runnel R et al. Effect of three-year consumption of erythritol, xylitol and sorbitol candies on various plaque and salivary caries-related variables [Internet]. Journal of Dentistry. 2013.

7. Lustig R, Schmidt L, Brindis C. The toxic truth about sugar [Internet]. 2012.

8. Jensen T et al. Fructose and sugar: A major mediator of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease [Internet]. 2018.

9. Fernstrom J. Non-Nutritive Sweeteners and Obesity [Internet]. Annual Review of Food Science and Technology. 2015.

10. García Almeida J, Casado G, García Alemán J. A global and current vision of sweeteners. Regulatory aspects [Internet]. 2013.

11. Calzada León R et al. Use of non-caloric sweeteners in children [Internet]. Acta Pediátrica de México. 2013.

12. Cavagnari B. Non-caloric sweeteners in pregnancy and lactation [Internet]. Rev Esp Salud Pública. 2019.

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