Whether you’re trying to cut calories or curb your consumption of refined products, reducing the table sugar in your diet is a smart start. To help you make the sweetest pick for stirring, sprinkling or baking, here’s our scoop on six sugar substitutes.

CALORIE-FREE SWEETENERS

1. Stevia

Derived from the leaf of a South American shrub, this natural substance is up to 200 times as sweet as sugar. Stevia-based products like Truvia and Pure Via are made from a purified extract of the plant, called rebaudioside A (Reb A), and sugar alcohols. 

Pros: It’s a natural sweetener that’s free of artificial chemicals. You also can use stevia in cooking and baking.

Cons: Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Reb A as a sugar substitute, the whole leaf and crude extracts – sold as supplements in health food stores – have not been approved.

Try it in: Anything that you would use sugar in. Keep in mind that stevia is more potent, so follow the recommended conversions on the label for baking and cooking.

 

2. Aspartame

Found in diet drinks, sugar-free gum and those blue packets, this synthetic sweetener is sold under the brand names Equal and NutraSweet.

Pros: Introduced in 1981, aspartame is one of the most studied sweeteners on the market. Despite the rumors, there’s no conclusive evidence of a link between aspartame and cancer, according to the FDA and American Cancer Society.    

Cons: Heat can break down aspar-tame, which creates a bitter aftertaste, so avoid cooking with it. Also, aspartame can trigger headaches or stomach discomfort in certain people, says registered dietitian Christine Gerbstadt, MD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Try it in: Yogurt, coffee or sprinkled on fruit

 

3. Sucralose

Also called Splenda, and sold in yellow packets, it’s made from a chemically tweaked version of sugar that isn’t absorbed by the body. The sweetener is used in a bevy of products, such as soft drinks, cereals and baked goods.

Pros: Because sucralose can withstand heat, you can use it for cooking and baking. “It doesn’t provide the same consistency or color as sugar,” says registered dietitian Bethany Thayer, director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. In other words, cookies will turn out thinner and paler. Splenda Sugar Blend, a mixture of sugar and sucralose, may produce better results. 

Cons: Like aspartame, sucralose can lead to headaches and digestive issues in some people, says Gerbstadt.

Try it in: Beverages, cooked dishes or baked goods. Check the label to see how much you should use as a substitution.