When it comes to replacing processed sugar, with a sugar substitute, here is what you need to know. There are 2 categories: artificial and natural.

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CLEVELAND -- Eat less and move more. It's a simple and often successful weight-loss mantra. But if you are looking to cut out processed sugar and substitute it with something else, what's best? All sugar substitutes are not created equal.

"Every single day I have sweetener in my coffee. And probably once a week I'm making something or baking something with artificial sweetener," says Colby Lemaster, who makes Splenda his sweetener of choice.

Lemaster says the sugar substitute was part of a diet and exercise plan that helped him shed over 100 pounds.

When it comes to replacing processed sugar with a sugar substitute, here is what you need to know. There are two categories: artificial and natural.

Aspartame: Popular brands include NutraSweet and Equal. More than 6,000 products contain aspartame, including diet drinks, desserts and packet sweeteners. The safety of aspartame has been the subject of countless controversies since it was first approved for use in food by the the Food and Drug Administration in 1981. The FDA reviewed its safety again in 2007, concluding "aspartame is safe at current levels of consumption as a nonnutritive sweetener." However, people with the genetic condition PKU cannot ingest it. And pregnant women have been cautioned to avoid artificial sweeteners because they have been linked to premature births.

Sucralose: This is best known as the Splenda brand. It can be added to prepared beverages and foods and also used in baking because it is stable under heat. In the table version, Splenda is twice as sweet as saccharin and three times as sweet as aspartame. It was approved for use in the United States in 1998. Researchers looking for ways to use sucrose and its synthetic derivatives stumbled upon the sweetness in a chlorinated sugar compound.

Saccharine: The most popular brand is Sweet'N Low, sold in little pink packets. It is most commonly found in beverages, candies, cookies, medicines and toothpaste. The basic substance is benzoic sulfilimine. Studies have shown saccharine causes bladder cancer is rats, which eventually prompted safety warnings on products containing saccharine. However, in 2001, the FDA reversed its position, declaring it safe for consumption.

Neotame: Sold under brand name Sunett, Sweet One. Invented by the makers of NutraSweet and approved by the FDA in 2002. The chemical formula is similar to aspartame, but it is sweeter and, therefore, used in smaller amounts. It's the only artificial sweetener deemed "safe" by the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Much has been written and debated about artificial sweeteners. We went to the Cleveland Clinic and registered dietitian Laura Jeffers for input.

"All the research out there as far as the consumption of artificial sweeteners shows that the average amount people are consuming is far lower than any amount that would be unsafe to consume," Jeffers says.

So-called natural sweeteners are growing in popularity. Most are well-known, like honey, agave nectar and molasses. They are not calorie-free but can sweeten foods in small amounts and are healthier replacements for processed sugar.

When given the choice, Jeffers says people should choose natural sweeteners.

"So for instance, if it's a fruit nectar, it's coming straight from the source," Jeffers explains.

A natural sweetener that's growing in popularity is sold under the name "Truvia" and "PureVia."

The calorie-free, low-carb sweetener comes from the shrub-like stevia plant. This sugar substitute is about 100 times sweeter than sugar. Just like artificial sweeteners, stevia is not immune to controversy.

The FDA first rejected it in the 1990s for use as a food ingredient. High dosages fed to rats affected reproduction.

But in 2008 the FDA granted stevia "GRAS" status, meaning it is "generally recognized as safe."

(Update: a previous version of our on-air story included high fructose corn syrup among a list of artificial sweeteners. The Food and Drug Administration allows the use of the term "natural" for food ingredients as long as they contain no artificial or synthetic substances and are produced through natural enzymes. In a letter dated July 3, 2008 addressed to the Corn Refiners Association, the FDA maintains high fructose corn syrup may be called "natural" when produced in this manner. The Corn Refiners Association, which represents makers of high fructose corn syrup in the U.S., tells WKYC all of its members adhere to this process.)

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