Let's start making a basic distinction: there are natural sugars and chemical sweeteners.
Many of the sweeteners found in packaged foods are synthetic, others such as fructose and lactose are common and natural substances, and occur naturally in some foods.
Two "classes" of substances with sweetening properties therefore: natural sweeteners and artificial sweeteners.
I artificial sweeteners they do not exist in nature but are produced in the laboratory. Of course, they have the advantage of having very few calories compared to common sugar (beet or cane), and a small amount is enough to sweeten foods a lot.
Yet, they can give undesirable effects such as headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and even more serious undesirable effects, so much so that there are maximum doses beyond which it is always good not to take them ... but between drinks, industrial sweets , candies and chewing-gum it is easy to reach the "thresholds of attention"!
Il cyclamate, just to give an example, (used in syrups for diabetics, but not only) is suspected of being carcinogenic so much so that in the USA it is prohibited.
Another sweetener of dubious goodness is aspartame, widely used in drinks and "light" foods, candies, chewing gum. This too, like acesulfame (the heat-resistant "cousin"), has long been suspected of being a carcinogen! Yet the food industry uses it abnormally.
The only sweetener whose safety seems to have been guaranteed so far (until proven otherwise!) Is sucralose, widely used in long-life products.
Here are 3 sugar-free dessert recipes
Sure they will contain more calories, yet natural sweeteners are by far a more natural and healthy choice: they are found naturally in fruit and vegetables, or are obtained from beet or sugar cane (with more or less refining processes): this is the case of sucrose, the common sugar used in cooking, which we obviously prefer as less refined as possible.
The fructose instead it is found in most sugary fruits, honey and various vegetables. It is very caloric and its intake as a sweetener in large doses in the long term can lead to obesity.
Then there is the sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol family: all very refreshing and used in candies and chewing-gum; of course, they are natural, but taking in large quantities can cause flatulence, stomach ache and dysentery.
In short, on balance there is no doubt that natural sweeteners are preferable to artificial ones, but the advice is: "use in moderation"!
Here are other natural sweeteners:
> Stevia, its properties and how to grow it
> Palm sugar: properties, use and where to buy it
> Properties, calories and use of maple syrup
| Steven Snodgrass, Flickr