5 Misconceptions About "Natural" Sweeteners You Wish You Knew Before

Updated: Mar 30


The general public perception is that a natural sweetener is minimally-processed, safer, healthier, "better-for-you," and nutritionally superior. For most of us, it implies that the sweetener is not synthetic. In this post, I clarify five misconceptions about natural sweeteners and list some facts to be aware of when you see a "natural," "all natural," or "100% natural" claim on labels of sugars, syrups, and sweeteners.

Natural versus 100% Natural Sweetener |  Are natural and all natural the same

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MISCONCEPTION #1

"Natural" and "organic" sweeteners are the same

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TRUTH

"Organic" sweeteners, unlike "natural" sweeteners, are strictly regulated

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It is essential to know that the use of the term "organic" in sweeteners labels follows a set of strict rules versus the use of the "natural" claim is informal and not regulated.

Natural versus Organic Sweetener | Is Organic Worth it | Are natural and organic the same


Natural by FDA


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is the agency responsible for assuring that foods are properly labeled, does not define or regulate the use of the term "natural."


It does have a longstanding informal policy which says that ingredients derived from a natural source may carry the claim natural if "nothing artificial or synthetic has been included in, or has been added to, it that would not normally be expected to be in" that ingredient.


However, the policy is not clear, misleading, and cause confusion. In the FDA's view, natural sweeteners may be refined, highly processed, and even synthetic copies of sweet components of plants.



Organic By USDA


In contrast, the use of the term "organic" is strictly regulated by the National Organic Program (NOP), which was established and is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It took twelve years for the USDA to figure out how to define organics and set the rules, which are complicated, and take hundreds of pages in the Federal Register. Sweeteners labeled with the organic claim must comply with the USDA's organic standards and with the FDA's regulations for labeling.

What are the differences between Natural and Organic Sweeteners | Natural versus Organic Sugar | Natural versus Organic Syrup


Facts about organic sweeteners:


  • Organic farming practices include crop rotation. Genetically modified (GM) seeds, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are not allowed. Organic does not automatically mean "pesticide-free" or "chemical-free." A variety of sprays and powders are permitted. Still, such substances must not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water. To draw a comparison: organic farmers have restricted access to 27 synthetic pest control products while over 900 are registered for use in conventional farming.

  • A common misconception is that organic sweeteners are unrefined and minimally processed. It's important to know that the claim "organic" relates not only to the way a crop is grown, but also how it is processed, handled, and packaged. Like growing organic crops, organic processing is regulated by the NOP, and manufacturers of organic sweeteners must comply with it.


  • Another common misconception is that organic sweeteners are safer, healthier, or nutritionally superior to their conventional (non-organic) counterparts. For example, organic turbinado sugar doesn't provide more nutritional value than regular turbinado. Organic stevia leaf extract is not healthier than conventional stevia extracts. Both organic and non-organic options are safe for us. Organic sweeteners are not better for us, but they are definitely better for the environment.



What makes a sweetener organic | what makes maple syrup organic | what makes honey organic | what makes a product organic

Please refer to a previous post to learn about organic sugar.


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MISCONCEPTION #2

Natural sweeteners may not be synthetically produced

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TRUTH

Natural sweeteners may be synthetic copies of their natural counterparts

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In the mind of most of us consumers, the term "natural" in labels of sweeteners implies that the sweetener is not synthetic. However, as I discussed in a previous post, a variety of natural sweeteners are produced synthetically by fermentation or enzymes. I list below what you need to know about synthetic sweeteners that may be promoted as natural.


FAQ about Synthetic Sweeteners Promoted as "Natural":


  • How are synthetic sweeteners made? Plants or parts of a plant are used as raw material, but a synthetic sweetener is not directly isolated (extracted) from the plants that contain them. For example, fructose, xylitol, and erythritol are found in nature but in minuscule amounts. So, large scale extraction directly from nature is not cost-effective. That's why synthetic copies of their "natural counterparts" [fructose, xylitol, erythritol that are intrinsic in the plant] are produced. They're made via fermentation and enzymes. Learn more about synthetic sweeteners here.



  • Is a synthetic sweetener different than a naturally occurring sweetener (intrinsic and intact in the plant)? No, a synthetic sweetener is an identical copy of sweet-tasting components of plants. Their