Artificial Sweeteners – Are They Safe Alternatives To Sugar?

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Sugar substitutes are compounds that offer the sweetness of sugar without adding calories or elevating blood sugar. These non-nutritive (no-calorie) sweeteners are highly concentrated. Their sweetness ranges from 200 to 13,000 times sweeter than regular table sugar. Many people use them to cut down on the number of calories they consume and to control diabetes.

The purpose of artificial sweeteners is to mimic the sweetness of table sugar, or sucrose. Everyone has different sensitivities, but scientists estimate that the general population can detect a solution of about 0.5 percent sucrose, which is one teaspoon of table sugar dissolved into several cups of water. By comparison, one-six-hundredth of a teaspoon of sucralose, the sweetener in Splenda, would make the same impression on your taste buds.

Despite differences in sweetness, it is easy for most people to spot the taste of Aspartame (Equal), Sucralose (Splenda), and Saccharin (Sweet’N Low). That is because our taste buds pick up more than just how sweet something is. We also can detect how the timing of the sweet taste and what the product feels like in our mouths. We experience the sweetness at its maximum level about four seconds after it hits our tongues and then the sweetness diminishes over the course of about a minute. For example, Saccharin, the compound in Sweet’N Low, hits the taste buds slightly faster than table sugar, but when the sweetness subsides, it can leave behind a bitter aftertaste.

These compounds do have calories in them, but they are more concentrated than table sugar, so we use less. When less product is used, fewer calories are consumed.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved five artificial sweeteners that are reportedly safe to consume on a daily basis over a lifetime. The FDA tests the sweetener for safety. Although numerous studies have been conducted on artificial sweeteners and their relation to cancer, research has found no evidence to support these claims in human beings.

The five artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA are in the following table.

Typekcal/gRegulatory status, sourceOther namesDescription
Saccharin0Approved as a sweetener for beverages and as a tabletop sweetener in foods with specific maximum amounts allowed, found in tabletop sweetener or as an ingredient in chewing gums, breakfast cereals, and soft drinks.Sweet and Low, Sweet Twin, Sweet 'N Low Brown, Necta Sweet, Sugar Twin200-700 times sweeter than sucrose; noncariogenic and produces no glycemic response; sweetening power is not reduced with heating
Aspartame0Approved as a general-purpose sweetener, found in chewing gums, soft drinks, baked goods, and jams.Nutrasweet, Equal160-220 times sweeter than sucrose; noncariogenic and produces limited glycemic response
Acesulfame-K0Approved as a general-purpose sweetener, found in baked goods, frozen desserts, candies, beverages, cough drops, and breath mintsSunett, Sweet & Safe, Sweet One200 times sweeter than sucrose; noncariogenic and produces no glycemic response; sweetening power is not reduced with heating.
Sucralose0Approved as a general-purpose sweetener, found in baked goods, soft drinks, chewing gums, frostings, frozen desserts, jams, jellies, gelatins, puddings, processed fruits and fruit juices, toppings, and syrups.Splenda600 times sweeter than sucrose; noncariogenic and produces no glycemic response; sweetening power is not reduced with heating
Neotame0Approved as general-purpose sweetener, mixed in baked goods, soft drinks, chewing gums, frostings, frozen desserts, jams, jellies, gelatins, puddings, processed fruits and fruit juices, toppings, and syrups.n/a8,000 times sweeter than sucrose; noncariogenic and produces no glycemic response; sweetening power is not reduced with heating

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About Author

Amy Lowy

Amy is a registered dietitian from Montrose, Colorado who specializes in food and nutrition. She helps clients develop healthy meal plans and nutritional programs to eat right and live a healthier life.

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