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Decoding the Label: Sweeteners April 20, 2011

Cancer diagnosis, behavior disorders, obesity and type 2 diabetes are on the rise nationwide. It is widely accepted that processed foods are partially if not mostly to blame. Many people are trying to be smarter grocery shoppers. You’re reading labels and avoiding corn syrup. But sometimes you just don’t know what all of the ingredients on the label mean. Here is a little pocket guide of some of the most common sweeteners and alternate names found on the market. Items in red are on my don’t buy list. I suggest you highlight it, hit Control P and print selected area. Take it with you for a few grocery trips.


  • Acesulfame is an artificial sweetener sold under the brand name of SunSweet.
  • It is also known as acesulfame K or acesulfame potassium.
  • Although FDA approved, long-term health effects have not been adequately researched.


  • Agave syrup is a natural sweetener made by extracting and heating the juice of the agave plant.
  • Regardless of color, agave syrup is mostly comprised of fructose sugar.
  • Fructose has a lower glycemic index than sucrose (table sugar). Although agave is safer than sucrose, it is still a sugar and should only be consumed in moderation.


  • Aspartame is an artificial sweetener sold under the brand names of Canderel, Equal, NutraSweet.
  • The FDA rejected any scientific attempts at proving long-term negative health effects in the 20th century as false with a little urging from Monsanto’s lawyers. I would tell you how I feel about Monsanto but they might sue me.

Barley Malt

  • Barley malt is a natural sweetener typically used for fermentation. It is used as a nutritive supplement in the U.K.
  • It is also known as maltose or maltose syrup. Maltose is a unique type of sugar.
  • Maltose has a lower glycemic index than sucrose. Maltose is a still a form of sugar and should only be consumed in moderation.

Corn Syrup & High Fructose Corn Syrup

  • Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup are natural sweeteners typically derived from extreme processing of genetically modified corn.
  • Corn syrups will soon be called corn sugars. Regular corn syrup is mostly a glucose sugar. High fructose corn syrup is more processed and is appropriately named fructose.
  • The effects on the body are similar to sucrose. While corn syrup itself isn’t that bad. The overuse of it is killing us. Many thanks to Monsanto for providing the world with useless genetically modified seeds.


  • Honey is perhaps one of the oldest and most natural foods available!
  • Honey is pure glucose.
  • Honey is very chemically stable and the body knows exactly what to do with it. Honey is my preferred sugar substitute. Moderation is very important if you are diabetic.


  • Saccharin is the oldest artificial sweetener on the market.
  • Saccharin was once banned by the FDA as unsafe for human consumption and on the EPA’s toxic chemicals list. It has since been removed and deemed safe for consumption. Questionable, very questionable.


  • Sucralose is an artificial sweetener processed with chlorides.
  • Sucralose is sold by the brand names Splenda and Nevella.
  • Sucralose may kill beneficial bacteria in the gut and have a laxative effect. No long-term health effects have been proven yet.


  • Sugar is a natural sweetener and is the control that all other sweeteners are compared to. It is typically manufactured from cane sugar or beets.
  • Sugar is also known as sucrose. Sucanat is a less processed form of sugar cane.
  • Unless you are diabetic, I recommend using sucanat in moderation when making sweets. Excessive sugar consumption can cause issues with insulin production and weight gain.

Sugar Alcohols or “itols”

  • Most sugar alcohols are food based but heavily processed and often labeled as natural. Most are derived from corn. Some are derived from birch or fruit. Sugar alcohols are relatively new on the market and many are only approved as supplements or have just received food status from the FDA.
  • Almost any ingredient ending in itol is a sugar alcohol. Mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, etc. all fall under this category.
  • Sugar alcohols are typically marketed towards diabetics as safer than sugar and more natural than artificial sweeteners. They are also used in oral hygiene products and chewing gums. Be cautious with sugar alcohols. They can cause headaches or have diuretic and laxative effects. I don’t consider them a danger yet but I try not to buy them very often because they are so new. The long-term effects have yet to be seen.


  • Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from a category of plant leaves related to sunflowers. The level of processing depends on the brand. It is currently sold as a supplement, not food, in the U.S.
  • Stevia is also known as SweetLeaf or SugarLeaf
  • Stevia is a form of fiber and may have a mild laxative effect. Stevia is safe for diabetics and may even improve glucose tolerance! Due to “industry complaints” stevia has been the subject of controversy remaining unapproved by the FDA. In more recent studies, the World Health Organization has found no validity to the complaints. Stevia sweeteners are top sellers in supplement stores. Coca-cola has jumped on the centuries long trend and I expect that it will be fully approved by the FDA very soon.

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