Are you on the hunt for the perfect low-calorie sweetener? It’s no easy task! You’ve probably wondered when it comes to sucralose vs allulose vs erythritol, which one’s right for me?
With a deluge of options on the market today, it can be challenging to sift through the sweet fact from the sugary fiction.
Whether you wish to cut back on table sugar, manage diabetes, lose weight, or simply embrace a healthier lifestyle, finding the right sugar substitute can be a game-changer.
But when it comes to these sweet sugar alternatives, the choice isn’t always as clear as black and white… or should I say, sugar and Splenda?
Here we’ll explore the sweet and the, well, not-so-sweet, of sucralose, allulose, and erythritol. We’ll see how they stack up against each other. And importantly, we’ll explore how they might align with your unique health goals and lifestyle.
Ready to embark on this sugar-free journey? Let’s dive in!
Short on time? Don’t leave now! Scroll to the bottom for health hacks you can implement TODAY.
What is a Low-Calorie Sweetener?
A low-calorie or artificial sweetener (also called a non-sugar sweetener, or NSS) is a substance that is used as a sugar substitute to mimic the taste of natural sugar. It provides sweetness in food and beverages without adding significant calories.
There are two types of low-calorie sweeteners: artificial sweeteners and natural sugar substitutes.
Artificial sweeteners have been chemically created and are not found in nature. Common artificial sweeteners include:
Some artificial sweeteners are under scrutiny as recent research points to health concerns. Further, they may not be as effective in reducing weight or blood sugar levels as previously thought. More on this below.
There are also natural sweeteners like monk fruit extract, stevia, and erythritol. People tend to use them instead of regular sugar because they have fewer calories or no calories at all, and they may not affect blood sugar levels as much as sugar.
However, it’s important to note that while natural sugar substitutes come from natural sources, they are still processed and are sold in a different form than what is found in nature.
Pro-tip: Natural sugar substitutes are often mixed with other ingredients like fillers to create the final product. It’s important to read nutrition labels to know exactly what you’re getting.
Low-Calorie and Artificial Sweeteners: What You Need to Know
As of May 15, 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) advised against using sugar substitutes to lose weight or lower the risk of diseases like heart disease and diabetes (1) after reviewing 283 studies.
The WHO’s guidance encompasses a wide range of sweeteners, both artificial and natural. This includes popular options like acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, and stevia.
It does not include sugar alcohols such as erythritol or the plant-based sugar alternatives allulose, and monk fruit sweetener (lo han guo).
What Does This Mean for You?
If you’re trying to lose weight or body fat, non-sugar sweeteners don’t really help in the long run.
In fact, using NSS for a long time might actually have negative effects. Studies have found an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart problems, and even death in adults who use NSS for extended periods of time (2).
It’s important to note that this guidance does not include people with diabetes. However, this does not mean the WHO endorses NSS use in diabetics either!
The only reason the guidance doesn’t apply to those with diabetes is because the studies reviewed didn’t include people with diabetes. Thus, the researchers couldn’t draw reliable conclusions about how artificial sweeteners affect people with diabetes.
But wait, there’s more! Similar to sugar, artificial sweeteners can trigger cravings for sweet and sugary foods. Unfortunately, the more you eat sweet-tasting food, the stronger your sweet tooth.
When consumed, sweeteners stimulate the taste receptors associated with sweetness, increasing the desire for more sweet flavors. This creates a cycle where the use of artificial sweeteners may intensify cravings for sweet foods.
So, it’s important to be cautious and consider the potential drawbacks before relying too much on artificial sweeteners.
What is Sucralose?
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener used as a sugar substitute. It is sold under several brand names, most notably Splenda.
Chemically, sucralose is made from sugar through a process that modifies natural sugar molecules. Although it is made from sugar, the chemical changes mean sucralose doesn’t act like sugar in the body.
Unlike sugar, sucralose does not provide calories since it is not fully digested or absorbed by the body. This is why it is often called a “zero-calorie sweetener” and is used in “sugar-free” products.
Sucralose provides a sweetness level that is approximately 600 times greater than regular sugar. A small quantity of sucralose can provide the same level of sweetness as a much larger amount of sugar.
It is commonly found in soft drinks, baked goods, desserts, dairy items, and tabletop sweeteners. Its high stability under various temperature conditions makes sucralose an especially versatile option for cooking and baking applications.
Potential Health Benefits of Sucralose
The primary health benefits of sucralose come from its potential role in reducing calorie intake and managing blood sugar levels.
Calorie Intake. Sucralose doesn’t contain any calories. This makes it a useful tool for the sweetening of foods and beverages without adding additional calories.
Blood Sugar Control. Unlike sugar, sucralose doesn’t directly raise blood glucose levels. It can be a good option for people with diabetes and those who are trying to manage their blood sugar levels.
However, there is some question as to whether sucralose may have the opposite effect in some people (more on this later).
Dental Health. Sucralose does not contribute to tooth decay because it’s not broken down by the cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth. This contrasts with sugar, which can contribute to dental caries (cavities).
Suitable for Cooking and Baking. Although this isn’t directly a health benefit, the ability to use sucralose for cooking and baking enhances the health benefits above.
Important Considerations When Using Sucralose
Sucralose is widely used and has been deemed safe by major health and regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, there are potential health risks and controversies surrounding its use that deserve consideration.
Gut Health. Some research suggests that sucralose may alter the microbiome (healthy bacteria in the gut). Sucralose may negatively affect the balance and diversity of the microbiome, which can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and immune dysfunction (3, 4).
Insulin Response and Blood Sugar. Some studies found that sucralose may cause an increase in insulin and blood sugar levels and decrease insulin sensitivity (5, 6, 7). Yet other studies found that sucralose has little effect on blood sugar levels (8, 9, 10).
Thus, more research is needed to fully understand the effect of sucralose (if any) on blood sugar and insulin.
Heart Disease. Regular consumption of artificial sweeteners, including sucralose, may contribute to metabolic syndrome. This cluster of conditions increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes (11).
Potential Cancer-causing Effects. A recent study found that certain gut bacteria convert sucralose to sucralose-6-acetate. When human blood cells were exposed to this compound, it caused breaks in the DNA structure (12).
These findings raise concerns about the potential risk of increased cancer with sucralose consumption. However, further research is necessary to fully understand the extent of these potential health risks.
Overconsumption of Sweet Foods. Using sucralose may maintain cravings for sweet foods. This could potentially lead to overeating, as artificial sweeteners are often much sweeter than sugar.
Migraines. Some people report that consuming sucralose can trigger migraines or headaches, although this seems to be a relatively rare side effect (13).
What is Allulose?
Allulose is a natural sugar found in small quantities in maple syrup, molasses, and fruits like figs, raisins, and jackfruit. You may know it by the brand name Swerve.
Roughly 70 percent as sweet as sugar, allulose looks and tastes like sugar but contains almost no calories and has a low glycemic index.
Though allulose is found in small quantities in nature, most commercially available allulose is produced by converting fructose found in corn starch into allulose. The result is a white crystalline product that looks similar to sugar but is more powdery.
Approximately 70% of allulose gets absorbed into your bloodstream from your digestive tract. However, unlike other sugars, most of the allulose is not utilized as fuel by your body. Instead, it is mostly excreted in your urine (14).
This unique characteristic of allulose means that it contributes fewer calories compared to other sugars since it is not fully metabolized for energy.
Because it is not utilized for energy, allulose doesn’t raise blood sugar levels or insulin levels like sugar and other caloric sweeteners can.
For this reason, it’s often used as a sugar replacement in low-calorie or low-sugar baked goods, soft drinks, and ice cream.
Potential Health Benefits of Allulose
Low-Calorie. Allulose contains only 0.2-0.4 calories per gram, significantly fewer calories than regular sugar, which contains 4 calories per gram. Allulose may help prevent weight gain by reducing total caloric intake.
Low Glycemic Index. Allulose has a glycemic index of 0, meaning it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. This makes it a great option for people with insulin resistance, diabetes, or those who are trying to manage their blood sugar levels.
Does Not Contribute to Tooth Decay. Unlike real sugar, allulose does not promote tooth decay, making it a good option for oral health.
May Improve Insulin Sensitivity and Reduce Blood Sugar. Studies have shown that allulose can improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar after eating. This is important for people with diabetes or metabolic disorders (15, 16, 17).
Enhances Taste and Texture. Allulose has a similar taste and texture to cane sugar with no aftertaste or bitterness, which makes it a great option for baking and cooking. It also has the unique ability to enhance the taste of certain foods.
Potential Weight Loss Benefits. Some studies have suggested that allulose may help with weight loss by reducing calorie intake, increasing fat oxidation, and improving insulin sensitivity (18, 19, 20).
Important Considerations When Using Allulose
Gut Issues. Some individuals may experience digestive tract discomfort such as bloating, gas, and/or diarrhea when consuming allulose in large amounts. It’s best to start low and go slow to minimize the risk of these symptoms.
Interaction with Medications. Allulose can interact with some medications, particularly those metabolized by the liver. If you are taking any medications, or have a health condition that impacts your liver, talk to your doctor before consuming allulose.
Overconsumption of Sweet Foods. Regular consumption of allulose may enhance cravings for sweet foods.
Limited Research. Allulose is a relatively new sweetener, and there is still limited research on its long-term safety and potential health effects. More research is needed to fully understand its benefits and risks.
In general, allulose is considered safe for most people when consumed in moderation.
However, if you experience any negative side effects, it’s important to stop consuming allulose and talk to your doctor.
What is Erythritol?
Erythritol is another low-calorie sweetener that is commonly used in a variety of products.
A sugar alcohol naturally found in some fruits and fermented foods, most commercial erythritol is produced by fermenting glucose or other sugars.
Erythritol is about 70% as sweet as sugar with a similar flavor profile. It has about the same sweetness as allulose and, like allulose, does not have the bitter aftertaste found in many sugar-free sweeteners.
Potential Health Benefits of Erythritol
Low in Calories. Erythritol is very low in calories, containing just 0.2 calories per gram. This makes it an excellent alternative to sugar for people who are trying to lose weight or reduce their overall calorie intake.
Low Glycemic Index. Erythritol has a low glycemic index, meaning that it does not cause a significant spike in blood sugar levels when consumed. This makes it a good alternative sweetener for people with diabetes who need to limit their sugar intake.
Does Not Cause Cavities. Unlike sugar, erythritol does not contribute to the development of cavities or tooth decay. In fact, it may even help prevent cavities by reducing the number of bacteria in the mouth that contribute to tooth decay.
May Have Prebiotic Effects. Erythritol has been shown to have prebiotic effects, meaning that it can help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This, in turn, can help improve digestive health and boost the immune system.
May Help Reduce Oxidative Stress. Erythritol has antioxidant properties, which may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. This, in turn, may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (21).
May Help Reduce the Risk of Metabolic Syndrome. Some studies have suggested that erythritol may help reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol levels (22).
This may be due in part to erythritol’s ability to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.
While erythritol does have some potential health benefits, it’s important to use erythritol in moderation and to be aware of the potential side effects and health risks.
Health Risks of Erythritol
May Increase the Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke. Some studies found that those with higher blood erythritol levels were more likely to experience a heart attack, stroke, or even death (23, 24).
Erythritol may make platelets more likely to clump together, which could contribute to increased blood clotting and cardiovascular disease.
Digestive Issues. One of the most common side effects of erythritol is digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Because erythritol is not well absorbed in the digestive tract, it can ferment in the gut and cause discomfort.
Pro-tip: It is best to start with small doses and work your way up slowly to avoid abdominal pain and stomach issues.
Allergic Reactions. Some people may be allergic to erythritol, which can cause symptoms such as hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing (25). If you experience allergic symptoms after consuming erythritol, seek medical attention immediately.
Blood Sugar Levels. While erythritol has a low glycemic index, it still contains some carbohydrates, which can affect blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, it’s important to monitor your blood sugar levels closely when consuming erythritol.
Potential for Overconsumption. Consuming too much erythritol can lead to sugar cravings and increased appetite (26). This, in turn, may cause weight gain and other health problems.
If you have any underlying health conditions or concerns, it’s important to talk to your doctor before incorporating erythritol into your diet.
Sucralose vs Allulose vs Erythritol: Which One is Right for You?
When it comes to choosing between sucralose, allulose, and erythritol, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
These popular sweeteners have unique advantages and potential drawbacks, and the right choice for you will depend on your health needs and preferences.
Do you have digestive issues or are sensitive to sugar alcohols? If so, allulose may be a better choice for you.
Are you looking for a sweetener with a similar taste profile to sugar? If so, erythritol may be a better fit for you. If you do opt for erythritol, it’s best to consume it in moderation, especially if you have or are at high risk for heart disease.
Sucralose can be beneficial if you are looking to reduce your sugar intake or calorie consumption. Given the recent research suggesting that sucralose may damage your DNA, it may not be the best choice for those with cancer or at a higher risk of cancer.
Regardless of which sweetener you choose, it’s important to use them in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Pam is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Master’s of Public Health and a Certificate in Integrative and Functional Nutrition. Passionate about the science of health and nutrition, she loves to share her knowledge to help others live healthy, vibrant lives. When not working, Pam can be found hiking, traveling, and enjoying great-tasting, nutritious food.