The good, the bad, the ugly | Natural sugars vs added sugars vs artificial sweeteners

Natural sugars vs added sugars vs artificial sweeteners

Now, despite what our table listing various names for sugars (and explanation of what each one is) all sugars are created equal. What also matters is:

  •         Where they come from; and
  •         Their chemical composition.

Let’s look at the three different types of sugar, and what they really mean for your body.


Free sugar is simply added sugar, or sugar that is not naturally found in a product but is added to make it sweet. This usually includes a high/equal percentage of glucose, which is normally made naturally when the body breaks down carbs. With added sugar, the free sugar injects you with glucose directly, which allows it to skip digestion, enter the bloodstream directly (sugar spike), and go straight to the liver where it is turned into fat. Note that added fructose also seems to behave very differently in the body than natural sugar (i.e., natural fructose).


Natural sugars are made of fructose that are found naturally in fruits, dairy (lactose), and to some extend in vegetables. These sugars are encased in fiber and are diluted by water, both of which considerably slow down the rate at which it is metabolized and can easily be handled by our liver. There is conflicting literature on whether eating a lot of fruit (natural sugar) is harmful, though there are studies which show that eating sugar in its natural form (fruit) has only health benefits [1, 23]. 

Moderation is often the best policy though, and you might consult your healthcare practitioner and work with them to establish what the ideal fruit consumption is for you. Though technically not “natural” sugar, all carbohydrates are naturally broken down into glucose. 


Artificial sugars like-

  • sucralose (i.e., Splenda)
  • saccharin

are not metabolized by the body, and they are not technically sugar, which is why they are listed as 0 calorie, 0 sugar.

Aspartame is simply two amino acids bonded together (i.e., 0 calories, 0 sugar), which break apart in the body. The primary concerns with artificial sweeteners is their effect on our gut biome (altering it in a way that raises the risk of metabolic disease [4]), neurological makeup (in the case of Aspartame), weight gain [5], and insulin resistance [6].   

Alcohol sugars like-

  • ethritol
  • sorbitol
  • xylitol

are sugar substitutes that are quickly becoming very common, and like their artificial cousins they are not metabolized by the body (0 calories, 0 sugar).

So the question remains, if artificial sweeteners aren’t metabolized or are quickly broken down in the body, are they bad?

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Are artificial sweeteners bad?

Artificial sweeteners remain immensely popular for diet products, and equally controversial. Initial research of artificial sweeteners’ effects on mice gut-flora, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance are extremely concerning.

Equally concerning are studies that demonstrate how overstimulation of our sweet receptors (artificial sweeteners are 100 to 600 times sweeter than sugar!) can have complex and negative effects on everything from reward centers in the brain, to hormones released by the body, to our ability to regulate appetite. Moreover, artificial sweeteners may also be intensely addictive, as demonstrated by this study where rats preferred intense sweetness over cocaine.

A different 14-year study of 66,118 women published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition had the following conclusions [7]:

  •  Women who drank one 12 ounce diet soda per week had a 33% increased risk of type 2 diabetes
  •  Women who drank one 20 ounce diet soda per week had a 66% increased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Women who drank diet soda consumed twice as much as women who drank sugar-sweetened sodas (remember, artificial sweeteners are addictive)

Are you wondering why artificial sweeteners remain controversial despite this kind of evidence? So am I.






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