What You Should Know About Sugar Substitutes

Six artificial sweeteners are currently approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are all controversial because of questions about their safety and effectiveness. Information and misinformation abounds.  Here's what you need to know to decide if sugar substitutes are right for you.

Saccharin was the first artificial sweetener approved by the FDA back in1958. It is known by the brand names Sweet'N Low, Sugar Twin, Sucaryl, Adolph's and Sweet 10. Saccharin is 200 to 700 times sweeter than table sugar and contributes no calories to the diet.  It can be used as a tabletop sweetener, in cooking and baking and is found in a variety of commercially prepared food products such as sot drinks, canned fruit, baked desserts and chewing gum.

Aspartame, a protein-based sweetener sold as Equal, NutraSweet and Natra Taste, was approved in 1981. Aspartame contains the same number of calories as sugar, by weight, but because it is up to 200 times sweeter than sugar, much less is used. Aspartame cannot be used in cooking or baking because it loses its sweetness when heated.

It is used as a tabletop sweetener and is also found in many commercial products such as soft drinks, juice and milk drinks, puddings and pie fillings and frozen desserts. Anyone with the medical condition phenylketonuria (PKU) must avoid using this sweetener because they cannot metabolize one of its ingredients.

Acesulfame K (Ace-K), a calorie-free sugar substitute sold as SweetOne, Sunette and DiabetiSweet, was approved for home and limited commercial use in 1988. Since it is stable at high temperatures, Acesulfame-K can be used in cooking and baking. In 2003, FDA approval was extended for Ace-K's use as a general commercial sweetener.

Sucralose, sold as Splenda, is a derivative of sugar that was approved in 1998. Because it is not actually a sugar, however, it is not recognized by the body as a carbohydrate and therefore it passes through unabsorbed and provides no calories. Sucralose is used as a tabletop sweetener as well as in cooking and baking.

Neotame, a form of aspartame that does not affect people with phenylketonuria (PKU), was approved in 2002 for use in commercial products but not for home use. It is found in soft drinks, desserts, baked goods, yogurt, ice cream, non-dairy desserts and chewing gum. Neotame is reportedly 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar and contributes zero calories to the diet.

Rebaudioside A (Reb-A), a purifed form of the sweetener stevia sold under the brand names Truvia, SweetLeaf and PureVia, was approved by the FDA in 2008 as an all-purpose sweetener.  It is 250 to 300 times sweeter than sugar and calorie-free.

With the exception of aspartame's known limitations for a very small group of people with a rare disease, there is no evidence that any of the currently approved artificial sweeteners will cause harm to anyone, or that one is any more or less healthful than another. Animal studies have occasionally shown artificial sweeteners to be toxic, or cancer-causing when fed in massive amounts, but these effects have not been seen in human studies. Consumer reports of headaches and other complaints exist but none have been confirmed through research as routine side effects from normal use of any of these products.

In general, the American Medical Association, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Dietetic Association, American Diabetes Association and other expert health groups approve the moderate use of artificial sweeteners as safe and acceptable as part of a program for controlling blood sugar and managing weight.

Pregnant women and parents who are considering using artificial sweeteners for their children should consult with their doctors first. Although there is no evidence that any of these sweeteners will harm either of these groups, pregnant women and children are not normally encouraged to cut calories in their diets, so the use of non-caloric sweeteners may be discouraged on that basis alone. Of the approved sweeteners, only saccharin crosses the placenta, but research shows no evidence that it will harm a fetus. But since extensive research has not been performed on the use of artificial sweeteners by children or during pregnancy, most health experts recommended limited use for these groups, at most.



Calorie Control Council. "Sugar Substitutes." 2010. Web. 3 June 2010.

International Food Information Council.  "Facts About Low Calorie Sweeteners." November 2009. Web. 3 June 2010

National Cancer Institute. "Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer" 5 August 2009. Web. 3 June 2010.

Pollard, J. and Bielamowicz, M. "Sugar Substitutes-Weight Loss, Diabetes, Safety, Nutrition?  Texas A&M University Extension: Family and Consumer Sciences. 6 May 2010. Web. 3 June 2010.