Are Sugar-Free Syrups Really Healthier for You?

Rarely are pancakes and waffles served plain. At the very least, they come with a bottle of syrup, because pancakes and waffles aren’t very good if they don’t soak up some of that sweet liquid.

Whether you like your syrup to soak into your pancakes or pool in the squares of your waffles, you can’t deny that pancake syrup is an important part of breakfast. When it gets on other parts of your plate, it gives savory breakfast meats like bacon and sausage the perfect amount of contrast.

What does “sugar-free” mean?

“The FDA says that a food is sugar free if one serving has less than half a gram of added or natural sugar. Sugar that comes from nature could be something that is already in food. It could be fructose in fruit or lactose in milk, for example” says Maples.

You might also see “free of sugar,” “no sugar,” or “zero sugar,” which all mean “no added sugar.” But these foods can still have sugar alcohols like mannitol or sorbitol, as well as artificial sweeteners like Splenda or NutraSweet. Some common sugar-free foods are diet soft drinks and candies that are safe for people with diabetes.

Is sugar-free syrup healthy?

Pouring on stack of pancakes

Sugar-free syrup contains artificial sweeteners. They are sometimes called sugar substitutes, low-calorie sweeteners, or sweeteners with no nutritional value. They taste sweet like sugar but don’t have as many calories. Sugar is very sweet, but artificial sweeteners are much sweeter. Because of this, it doesn’t take much of an artificial sweetener to make food taste sweet. This is why foods made with sugar may have more calories than those made with artificial sweeteners.

Sugar substitutes don’t change how much sugar is in your blood. Most artificial sweeteners are actually called “free foods.” Free foods have less than 20 calories and less than 5 grams of carbs, and neither the calories nor the carbs count on a diabetes exchange. But keep in mind that other ingredients in foods with artificial sweeteners can still affect your blood sugar level.

Some studies have found that replacing foods and drinks that are sweetened with sugar with ones that are sweetened with sugar substitutes may not be as helpful as was once thought. This could be especially true if a lot of artificial sweeteners are used. But there needs to be more research.

Effects on weight

Observational studies on artificial sweeteners have shown that drinks with artificial sweeteners make people gain weight, not lose it.

A recent review of nine observational studies, however, found that artificial sweeteners were linked to a slightly higher BMI, but not to more body fat or weight. It’s important to keep in mind that observational studies can’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship. Instead, they can only help researchers find patterns that need more research. Still, many controlled trials have been done to study the effects of artificial sweeteners on body weight. These trials provide stronger evidence.

Several clinical studies have found that artificial sweeteners help people lose weight. In a large 18-month study with 641 children ages 4–11, those who drank 8.5 ounces (250 ml) of an artificially sweetened drink gained much less weight and fat than those who drank a sugary drink.

Another review of 15 clinical trials found that switching from sugary drinks to drinks with artificial sweeteners can help people lose a small amount of weight, on average 1.8 pounds (0.8 kg). So, controlled studies show that artificial sweeteners don’t make people gain weight and may even help them lose weight a little bit.

How it affects metabolic health

The number on the scale is not the only indicator of overall health. Some observational studies have found a link between artificial sweeteners and a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Even though observational studies can’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship, the results can be quite shocking.

For example, one study found that drinking a lot of diet soft drinks increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 121 percent. In another study, it was found that these drinks were linked to a 34% higher risk of metabolic syndrome. 

One study that looked at the effects of artificial sweeteners on both mice and people shows that this is true. It linked the sweeteners to not being able to handle glucose and a change in the bacteria in the gut.

Gut flora or microbiome refers to the bacteria in your intestines. It is well known that these bacteria are very important for your health. More research needs to be done to find out if artificial sweeteners cause problems because they change the bacteria in your gut, but it looks like there may be some reason to worry.

Effects on Hunger

Pouring syrup on pancakes

You don’t just eat food to get the energy you need. You also eat it because it tastes good. When you eat something sweet, chemicals and hormones in your brain are released. This is part of the “pathway to food rewards.”

Food reward is important for feeling full after eating, and it uses some of the same brain circuits as drug addiction and other addictive behaviors. Even though artificial sweeteners taste sweet, many researchers think that the lack of calories stops the food reward pathway from being fully activated. This could be why some studies show that artificial sweeteners make people want to eat more and crave sugary foods.

MRI scans of five men showed that eating sugar decreased signals in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls your appetite. This response didn’t happen when people ate aspartame, which suggests that your brain might not realize that artificial sweeteners make you feel full. This means that sweetness without calories might make you want to eat more, which would add to the number of calories you take in.

But in other studies, artificial sweeteners didn’t change how hungry people were or how many calories they ate. In a 6-month study of 200 people, for example, replacing sugary drinks with artificially sweetened drinks or water had no effect on how much food they ate.


Sugar isn’t bad, but eating too much of it can cause health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and a fatty liver. If you want to eat less sugar, sugar-free syrup is a healthy choice.

It doesn’t look like eating artificial sweeteners will make you gain weight, at least not in the short term. In fact, replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners may help you lose weight, even if it’s just a little bit.

If you’re healthy, happy, and happy with the results of using artificial sweeteners, there’s no reason to change anything. But if you have cravings, trouble controlling your blood sugar, or other health problems, you may want to avoid artificial sweeteners as one of many things.