If you’re confused about sugar substitutes you’re not alone. It seems as if every day you hear or see contradictory information being put out in the media outlets about artificial sweeteners, it can be exasperating trying to decipher fact from fiction. Below you’ll find information that is derived only from research proven facts provided by the Mayo Clinic and the FDA. This way you can weigh the pros and cons and make an informed choice about whether or not you want to use sugar substitutes in your daily diet.
Two Types of Artificial Sweeteners:
Artificial sweeteners come in nutritive and non-nutritive forms of sugar substitutes. The difference between a nutritive and non-nutritive sugar substitute is that nutritive sweeteners contain calories that contribute to the caloric value (calorie count) of the food they’re in (processed foods and drinks) or put in/on (at the table), but non-nutritive sweeteners have very few, if any, added calories at all. A good example would be aspartame which has 2 percent of the calories of an equivalent amount of sugar, while non-nutritive sweeteners contain less than 2 percent of calories found in the equivalent amount of sugar.
Below you’ll find a list of FDA approved nutritive and non-nutritive artificial sweeteners, the ingredient name, the brand name (sold as), a brief description and its FDA approved uses. All of these artificial sweeteners have been approved by the FDA as safe for human consumption, but only after countless scientific studies were conducted and/or reviewed over a period of years (numerous) by leading scientific experts in the respective field.
FDA Approved Sweeteners:
Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K): Is a non-nutritive sweetener the FDA approved as a general purpose flavor enhancer and sweetener in 2003, and is said to be 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is heat stable so it can be used for baked goods and foods (except meat and poultry). Acesulfame potassium is most commonly used when combined with other FDA approved sweeteners as an artificial sweetener in baked goods, beverages, candy, and frozen deserts.
Acesulfame potassium’s food label may be found to be listed as Acesulfame K, Acesulfame potassium, and/or as Ace-K. You may be more familiar with the brand names it’s sold under which are Sunett or Sweet One. It was approved for human consumption after the FDA reviewed more than 90 studies that supported Acesulfame potassium’s safety for use as an added sweetener.
Advantame: Is a non-nutritive sweetener listed as Advantame, approved for use in foods. You can use this sweetener in your recipes for baking goods and foods (except poultry and meat) because it is heat stable, not all artificial sweeteners are heat stable. Advantame is about 20,000 times as sweet as sugar.
The FDA did extensive studies including reviewing study information and results in 37 human and animal trials specifically designed to include possible toxic side-effects on human development, immune, nervous, and reproductive systems, as well as numerous other exploratory studies. The FDA concluded Advantame to be safe for human consumption in 2014.
Aspartame: Aspartame was first approved by the FDA in 1981, under a particular set of conditions, for use as a nutritive tabletop sweetener. Typically aspartame is found being used as a sweetener for coffee and tea, chewing gum, breakfast cereal and as a dry base for certain foods, puddings, gelatins, dairy products, and fillings.
This added sweetener does contain calories and is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It was approved in 1983 for use in carbonated drinks, carbonated drink syrup bases, and then in 1996 the FDA approved aspartame as a general purpose sweetener. But aspartame isn’t heat stable, so it’ll lose its sweetness if used in baking goods. Aspartame has been reviewed in more than 100 studies that supported its (the FDA’s) approval for human consumption, use and safety.
However, there is one exception to its approval for human consumption, and that would be for people with the rare hereditary condition called phenylketonuria or PKU. People with PKU have difficulty metabolizing phenylalanine, which’s contained in aspartame and therefore should monitor the amount of phenylalanine containing sweeteners, foods and drinks they consume to avoid any possible side effects.
The FDA requires that the labels of aspartame containing foods and drinks contain a warning that the product has phenylalanine in it. The ingredient label for aspartame is shown as aspartame, but you likely are more familiar with its brand names which include Equal, NutraSweet, and Sugar Twin.
Saccharin: Saccharin is a non-nutritive sweetener (no calories) approved by the FDA for human consumption as a sweetener both at the table and in cooking. It has a long history of use and controversy. First discovered in 1879 as a sugar substitute, reportedly it’s 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar. Saccharin has been used as a sugar substitute (under certain conditions) at the table, in cooking, and for the purpose of processed foods and beverages. Additionally, saccharin has/is being used for particular technological applications.
Controversy arose in the first part of the 1970’s when a study revealed it caused bladder cancer in test rats. This prompted the FDA to require a label warning and initiated Congress to mandate further studies being conducted on saccharin and the warning label to be present until study results could prove otherwise (no danger to humans).
It was in 2000, after further research in human trials (more than 30 studies) were concluded, it was determined that the results found in rats didn’t have the same results in humans and that saccharin posed no danger to humans when consumed. This prompted the National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health to remove saccharin from the potential carcinogens list. Therefore, products that contain saccharin no longer have to include a warning label.
Brand names that contain saccharin include: Necta Sweet, Sweet and Low, Sweet’N Low, and Sweet Twin.
Neotame: In 2002, the FDA approved Neotame as a general purpose added non-nutritive sweetener and flavor enhancer in foods (except meat and poultry) after reviewing more than 113 human and animal scientific studies for possible toxic effects. These studies included possible detrimental effects on the nervous, reproductive, and immune systems in humans. It was deemed safe for human consumption under certain circumstances by the FDA.
Neotame is a heat stable, non-nutritive added sweetener commonly sold by the brand name Newtame and purported to be 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than regular sugar. Because it’s heat stable, it’s an applicable sugar substitute when baking foods.
As you can see there are many different brand names of sugar substitutes on the market that’re safe to consume as long as you follow the dietary guidelines for the product, which by the way are almost impossible to exceed unless done intentionally. These sweeteners are found in many processed foods and beverages and are often sold as “sugar free” or “diet” but as mentioned above most still contain at least some calories, so read your labels if you’re trying to lose weight.
If you are looking for a healthier sugar substitute you’ve got many alternatives to choose from, but remember agave nectar, date sugar, maple syrup, honey, molasses, and fruit juice concentrates all are natural sweeteners that contain calories, so while they may be good for your health you’ll have to watch the calorie content carefully.