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Sweeteners: a healthy choice?

From a health perspective, it is debatable as to whether sweeteners are a sensible substitute for sugar. Experts recommend reducing your everyday sugar consumption rather than replacing it – this way, we can gradually get used to foods tasting less sweet. Are sweeteners a healthy alternative or not? We'll explain.

What are sweeteners?

Xylitol in a bowl sitting on tree leaves and tree bark
Sweeteners are classed as additives. In lists of ingredients, sweeteners and sugar substitutes are listed using their name or their E-number, e.g. "Sweetener (E 967)" or "Sweetener (xylitol)". With sweeteners, a distinction is made between sugar alcohols and sweeteners. Both are sugar substitutes. Sweeteners have a high level of sweetness and contain practically no calories. Sugar alcohols contain calories, but less than sugar.

Sugar alcohols

Sugar alcohols provide on average around two kilocalories per gram – around half as many as sugar. One exception is erythritol, which does not provide any energy. Sugar alcohols are harmless from a health perspective – this is why there are no defined maximum amounts for their use. However, eating large quantities of them may cause diarrhoea and bloating. Again, erythritol is an exception to this, as it does not cause any of the above-mentioned symptoms even in large quantities.
Here is an overview of all of the sugar alcohols and their E-numbers:
Sugar alcohol
E-number
Sugar alcohol
Sorbitol
E-number
E 420
Sugar alcohol
Mannitol
E-number
E 421
Sugar alcohol
Isomalt
E-number
E 953
Sugar alcohol
Polyglycitol syrup
E-number
E 964
Sugar alcohol
Maltitol
E-number
E 965
Sugar alcohol
Lactitol
E-number
E 966
Sugar alcohol
Xylitol
E-number
E 967
Sugar alcohol
Erythritol
E-number
E 968
Sugar alcohols: name and E-number
When baking, xylitol (also known as birch sugar) and erythritol can be used to replace sugar at a ratio of 1:1. Both are similar to granulated sugar in appearance, but there are differences when it comes to flavour and consistency. Xylitol and erythritol also have a cooling effect in the mouth, which may be objectionable depending on the product.

Sweeteners – sweetening with few calories

The use of sweeteners is only permitted in certain foods – and only in limited quantities. Sweeteners have 30 to 3,000 times the sweetness of household sugar. They are virtually calorie-free and do not cause tooth decay. However, there are defined amounts per kilogram of body weight that must not be exceeded.
If you consume them within this range, you should not expect any negative impact on your health from the present point of view. However, there is evidence that sweeteners may change the intestinal flora, which could have a negative impact on health. It is currently being discussed as to whether they may promote type 2 diabetes. The idea that sweeteners promote obesity was derived from animal studies. This effect was not observed in humans – quite the opposite, in fact: according to scientific studies, products containing sweeteners may actually help with weight loss.
Here is an overview of all of the sweeteners and their E-numbers:
Sweetener
E-number
Sweetener
Acesulfame K
E-number
E 950
Sweetener
Aspartame
E-number
E 951
Sweetener
Cyclamic acid
E-number
E 952
Sweetener
Saccharin
E-number
E 954
Sweetener
Sucralose
E-number
E 955
Sweetener
Thaumatin
E-number
E 957
Sweetener
Neohesperidine DC
E-number
E 959
Sweetener
Neotame
E-number
E 961
Sweetener
Salt of aspartame-acesulfame
E-number
E 962
Sweetener
Advantame
E-number
E 969
Sweeteners: name and E-number
Rumours persist that sweeteners are harmful to health – that they cause cancer and make you fat. There is no scientific evidence of this. However, sweeteners may have other negative effects on your health. It therefore makes sense to reduce your sugar intake rather than replacing it with sweeteners. Would you like to find out more about consuming sugar in a healthy way? You will find more helpful articles in our guides.