Sugar Vs Sugar Free: What Is The Real Difference?

As people look for effective ways to stay healthy or lose weight, the no-sugar diet has gained popularity. Sugar vs sugar free product has become a trend and most discussed topic in Asian Food and Beverage industry as people look for effective ways to stay healthy or lose weight or get rid of other comorbid conditions such as Diabetes mellitus and obesity.

“Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes,” says Dr. Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases.(WHO Urges Global Action to Curtail Consumption and Health Impacts of Sugary Drinks, n.d.) So, The World Health Organization recommends that no more than 10% of total daily energy intake should come from added sugars. In practice, this amount is near around 12 teaspoons of sugar.

flat lay of letter shaped cookies
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Although not everyone is convinced that low-sugar products work, as people are becoming more health conscious to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to reduce weight, the first thing one does is knock off the calories from sugar and turn to sugar substitute. So, when one has decided to limit the intake of added sugar products they need to avoid candy, cookies, baked goods, packed foods etc. including flavored yoghurts, granola, energy bars, cereals containing added sugar in it. But though people are avoiding free sugar in their diet, it becomes difficult to control one’s sweet tooth. This led to the discovery of low-calorie or no calorie sweeteners.

Thus, it is very much necessary to read the food labels carefully to check for the presence of added sugar or artificial sweetener. There are few terms that are generally present on the food labels from which one can understand the origin of the sweetness of the product. The Food & Drug Administration regulates health and nutrient content claims on food and drink packaging. In 2016, the FDA revised the Nutrition Facts label to list both “Total Sugars” and “Added Sugars.” The term “no added sugar” means that the manufacturer has added no sugar to the product. But it does not mean there is no sugar in the product. It may contain a good amount of natural sugar which provides the sweetness to the final product. Manufacturers can use the term “sugar free” if the product has less than 0.5 grams sugar per serving (both natural and added sugar). But keep in mind that as the servings of that product go up, so do the grams of sugar. There are also “Reduced sugar” products available, it has at least 25% less sugar than the regular version of the product.

In Diet soda artificial sweeteners are used, such as saccharin or aspartame, to achieve the same sweet taste as the original soda. Soda manufacturers often claim that diet soda is more healthful than regular soda and that it is an ideal choice for people trying to lose weight. Consequently, many people see diet soda as a better choice. Apart from this, artificial sweeteners are also used for various baked products. And in a way, this may help to prevent excess calorie intake, which in turn helps to reduce weight as these sweeteners are not absorbed in the human body, so they cannot shoot up the blood glucose levels. Therefore, it helps in controlling Diabetes.

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But long term use of such artificial sweeteners may not be healthy. Non-nutritive sweeteners are more potent than table sugar. The frequent use also over-stimulates the sugar receptors and may limit tolerance of more complex tastes. For example, People using it more frequently may find fruit sugar less appealing in comparison to artificial sugar substitutes. 

Artificial sweeteners have also been scrutinized intensely for decades and the US FDA has provided Acceptable Daily Intake value (ADI) for each artificial sweetener. Critics of artificial sweeteners say that they cause a variety of health problems, including cancer, heart issues and ADHD in children. Many rat studies had shown that long term use of high doses of these artificial sweeteners cause bladder cancer in those animals. But according to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies, those theories were dismissed on the basis that the cancer causing mechanism in rats does not apply to humans. Though some countries have banned certain artificial sweeteners for safety purposes, it is very important to take these artificial sweeteners within the ADI values provided by the FDA to avoid any kind of health hazard.

So, the bottom line is that, high sugary foods and drinks are related to various health conditions such as heart problems, obesity, diabetes, dental caries etc. In that case sugar free (using artificial sugar) foods or foods with reduced sugar may help to prevent certain health conditions. But long term use of artificial sweeteners may cause some health conditions such as allergies, inflammation and rashes on skin, hyperactivity in children etc.

How to make healthier choices:

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When one sees a sugar content claim on a product, use information on the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients list to make sure it is a healthier choice. Follow the World Health Organization (WHO) limit for normal sugar intake. And follow these general tips:

  • Build an overall healthy eating pattern, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat mostly nutrient-dense foods, which tend to be lower in added sugars.
  • Choose products with less added sugars.

One of the best ways to reduce sugars in the diet is to limit sugary drinks, including soda, sweet tea, coffee drinks, sports and energy drinks, and sweet fruit juices like apple and grape. Make water the default choice.


  • Between Sugar Free and No Added Sugar?  Retrieved July 1, 2021,         

Source: American Heart Association. [01/07/2021]

WHO urges global action to curtail consumption and health impacts of sugary drinks. (n.d.). Retrieved July 8, 2021, from

  • Sugar vs Sugar-free. (n.d.). Retrieved July 2, 2021. Source: Times of India [02/07/2021]

  WHO urges global action to curtail consumption and health impacts of sugary drinks. (n.d.). Retrieved July 8, 2021, from

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