The term refers to a whole range of substances used to add a touch of sweetness to our food. All over the world, sweeteners are widely used in the food industry to replace sugar (sucrose). There are many different types and it can be hard to keep them all straight: there are artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharine, and sucralose; there are sugar alcohols (also known as polyalcohols or polyols, with names like maltitol, sorbitol, and mannitol); and there are also composite sweeteners like stevia and agave syrup.
In Canada, all sugar substitutes must be analyzed and approved by Health Canada before they can be sold. Artificial sweeteners are often much sweeter than sugar, and so require only very small amounts to sweeten food. For this reason they are better for people with diabetes, as they will not raise blood sugar levels and are basically calorie-free. Sugar alcohols do raise blood sugar levels, but less than regular sugar. The main thing for diabetics is to remain vigilant and always monitor the impact of sweeteners on their blood sugar. Talk it over with your health professional.