Does our body process artificial sweeteners the same as regular sugar?

ask our dietitian your question todaydoes your body breakdown artificial sweetner the same as sugar

question-answer-color-v-2Does the body process artificial sweetener such as aspartame and sucralose the same as it would regular sugar? What about Stevia or Truvia®? Do those make any difference or is it all processed the same? -Tori E.


The short answer is “NO.”  They are very different molecules that the body handles differently, so I’ll go through each one for you.

Sucrose, or table sugar, is a naturally occurring compound made of two saccharide units (as are lactose and maltose). It’s derived from sugar beets or sugar cane. The body digests this readily and the individual sugar units are absorbed and transported as blood sugar. The individual sugar units can be metabolized within cells to produce ATP energy, or converted to storage carbohydrate (glycogen) or converted into fats and proteins by combining with other molecules. A gram of sucrose provides 4 Calories of energy.

Aspartame, first introduced under the brand NutraSweet, is a synthetic compound made of two amino acids that aren’t found together in nature. Just like other peptides or whole proteins, the body breaks these apart and utilizes the separate amino acids in protein metabolism. A small bit of methanol (about a quarter or sixth of the amount found in a serving of tomato juice) is also produced during digestion and subsequently processed by the liver in a normal fashion as if derived by food. Aspartame is nearly Calorie-free.

Sucralose, sold as Splenda with fillers dextrose and maltodextrin, is a chemically altered sucrose compound that has been chlorinated. Although it is formed from sucrose it is nothing like sugar. It is not fully absorbed by the body, and is almost entirely expelled. There doesn’t seem to be any real “processing” of the small amount that does get through the intestines, as most is excreted intact via urine. It is a non-nutritive sweetener; meaning that it qualifies as Calorie-free.

Stevia leaf extract contains steviol glycosides including rebaudioside A, the compound responsible for sweetness and the one isolated in ‘artificial’ sweeteners using Stevia. In humans, steviols are broken (hydrolyzed) by water of the intestines into steviol, which is absorbed and bound to another molecule (glucuronide). Human metabolism of steviol glucoronide is not clear, with most being excreted via urine within 3 days. Stevia leaf extract is another Calorie-free, non-nutrative sweetener.

Truvia® is a product based mainly on erythritol with stevia added. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol compound that is readily absorbed and undergoes minimal processing by the body.

– Debbie J., MS, RD

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Debbie James is a registered dietitian. Any views or opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or recommendations of Fitness International, LLC.

Posted on April 3, 2014, in Ask Our Dietitian, Health, Helpful, Nutrition, Weight Loss and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. What is the process for becoming a Registered Dietitian? How many years of formal education, and what is the registration process? Quite curious.

  2. Robert W. Bob Duggan

    Great article.

  1. Pingback: Even after saying ‘No’ to sweets, sugar is still sneaking in to your diet | Body Boot Camp

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