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The Sweeteners Guide

The real deal or artificial? No-calorie or low-calorie? Choosing how to sweeten your meals has never been stickier. Kristin Appenbrink, Associate Editor for RealSimple.com makes this decision easier with a guide to decoding seven types of sweeteners.

First there is sugar. Sugar is a natural granular substance distilled from sugarcane or sugar beets. You can find sugar in baked goods, cereals, ice cream, and bottled sauces. You should aim to consume it on a near full stomach to help stabilize your blood sugar, since eating the sweet stuff alone can cause blood sugar to soar and crash, leaving you tired and more hungry.

Agave Liquid is a sweet extract that comes from agave, a succulent plant that also happens to give us tequila. You can usually find the sweetener bottled, in health-food stores. Agave doesn't spike blood glucose as quickly as table sugar and it's about 25% sweeter. It is great in tea or coffee, and even Greek yogurt.

Stevia is an all-natural, no-calorie sweetener derived from the leaf of the stevia plant. It's in protein-shake mixes and soft drinks; it's also sold alone as a diet sweetener. You can bake with stevia, but it does best with medium temperatures. Although the US Food and Drug Administration recognizes stevia as safe, use it moderately. Consume no more than four milligrams per pound of body weight daily and consult your doctor if your pregnant.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup is the uber-sweet liquid derived from cornstarch. You can find the sweetener almost everywhere, including processed foods, baked goods, and condiments. Studies suggest that, like table sugar, HFCS may cause you to overeat. This is because it causes your body to not fully release the hormones that tell you you're full.

Saccharin, commonly known as Sweet-N-Low, is a safe-for-diabetics, calorie-free synthetic compound that includes sodium, hydrogen, and oxygen. It's in the cult-favorite diet soda Tab, and in toothpaste and some medicines. Saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sugar and stays that way even when heated, so it's good for tea and coffee. But it can have a metallic aftertaste. Also, you may get so used to saccharin's intense sweetness that you start craving sugary treats. While saccharin has been linked to bladder cancer in rats, experts have found no conclusive evidence of its correlation with cancer in humans.

Equal and Nutrasweet are products of aspartame, another synthetic, calorie-free option that's safe for diabetics. It can also be found in diet drinks and sugar-free gum. Two hundred times sweeter than sugar, aspartame has a clean flavor that is well suited to berries or cereal. It breaks down with heat, so don't bake with it. Despite persistent rumors, there is no conclusive link between the sweetener and diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Sucralose, also known as Splenda, is a chemically tweaked sugar that has no calories. You can find it in cereals, baked goods, soft drinks, and frozen desserts. About 600 times sweeter than sugar, sucralose holds up in the heat during baking. Sucralose causes abdominal discomfort in some people.

For more information on artificial sweeteners visit RealSimple.com realsimple.com.
Kristen Appenbrink & Erika Wortham