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What are "Added Sugars"?


If you have pre-diabetes, a few extra pounds of weight to lose, or just are looking to "clean up your diet" and rid yourself of extra calories from sugar, you're not alone.  The advice from health care providers to "cut back on are sugar sweetened beverages and foods" is pretty familiar to us all, but what if you don't eat or drink sugar sweetened beverages and foods to begin with?  What about the sugar alternatives in your protein powder or the sweetener in your coffee creamer? Is it healthy to eat those?

What are alternative sweeteners?

Alternative sweeteners are nutritive (i.e. provide some calories) or nonnutritive (i.e. provide no additional calories) substances and can be artificial or natural. They are commonplace in beverages, energy bars, desserts, candy, jellies, sauces and packaged snacks. One strategy for weight loss or blood sugar control is to replace the sugar containing foods in the diet with those sweetened with alternative sweeteners. It should be noted that in adults, research on the effects of frequently consuming alternative sweeteners and a person's craving of sweet foods is have yielded inconsistent results. And in children, the American Heart Association published a statement cautioning the use of sweeteners in due to unknown "long-term cardio-metabolic effects".

Cut back on empty calories.

If you are currently consuming alternative sweeteners, should you stop? The answer is, “it depends” and you should probably discuss your personalized nutrition plan with your provider. Here's what you should know when you have that discussion:

  1. Sugar contains 20 calories/teaspoon. The average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons of sugar daily. That's 390 empty calories!
  2. Replacing sugar with alternative sweeteners with very little to no nutrition value will not necessarily yield health benefits. The World Health Organization recommends limiting added sugars in the diet to less than 10% of total daily calories for optimal health and no more than 5% for additional benefits. For a man weighing 200lbs. and needing 2,000 calories, that’s no more than 200 calories/day—about 12 teaspoons of sugar.
  3. Be aware of your own sugar intake.  Read the ingredients listed on a food label that indicate your food contains sugar. These words include “honey”, “sucrose”, “high fructose corn syrup”, and “molasses” to name a few.
  4. Next, look for words that indicate alternative sweeteners are present in the food. Look for words like “sucralose”, “aspartame” or “saccharin”, to name a few. Use the chart below to assess the amount of these substances you are currently eating. Aim to consume no more than the acceptable daily intake of the sweetener as recommended by the FDA.



Retail/Trade Name

Sweetness compared to sugar

ADI (acceptable   daily intake) listed in mg/kg/day

Number of sweetener packets equivalent to ADI*

Acesulfame K

Sunett®, Sweet One®

200 x




Nutrasweet®, Equal®, Sugar Twin®

200 x




Sweet and Low® Sweet Twin®, Sweet’N Low®, Necta Sweet®

200-700 x





600 x



Monk fruit (Luo Han Guo)

Nectresse®, Monk Fruit in the Raw®, PureLo®

100-250 x

Not specified

Not specified


Truvia®, PureVia®, Enliten®

200-400 x



*Number of sweetener packets a 132lb person would need to consume to reach the acceptable daily intake.

Chart adapted from the FDA website, “Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for Use in Food in the United States”


  1. Center for Disease Control
  2. Harvard Health “Artificial sweeteners; sugar-free but at what cost?” July 16, 2012 Strawbridge, J. Updated Jan. 8, 2018
  3. Johnson RK, Lichtenstein AH, Anderson CAM, Carson JA, Després J-P,Hu FB, Kris-Etherton PM, Otten JJ, Towfighi A, Wylie-Rosett J; on behalf of theAmerican Heart Association Nutrition Committee of the Council on Lifestyle andCardiometabolic Health; Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; Council on Clinical Cardiology; Council on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research and Stroke Council. Low-calorie sweetened beverages and cardiometabolic health: a science advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2018;138.
  4. Federal Drug Administration. “Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for Use in Food in the United States”





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