Health Plus
August 1, 2019

There has been a lot of talk about artificial sweeteners in the past decade. Misinformation and general safety claims make it hard to determine if these sugar substitutes can be part of a healthy lifestyle. Read on for some sweet facts.

What are artificial sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners are used in many foods and drinks as a sugar substitute. Most often they are used to reduce the calorie content of foods that would normally contain high amounts of sugar. They can also be used to add flavor, limit bacteria growth, and balance acidity in sauces. Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners provide little to no energy (or calories) to the body. 

What are popular artificial sweeteners?

Some popular artificial sweeteners include aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, and stevia. You may recognize these sweeteners by their more common brand names:

  • Aspartame, also known as Equal or NutraSweet, is 200 times sweeter than table sugar. It loses its sweetness when it is heated, so it is typically used to sweeten drinks. 
  • Sucralose, also known as Splenda, is 600 times sweeter than table sugar. It can be found in gum, frozen desserts, baked goods, and drinks.
  • Saccharin, also known as Sweet'N Low, is 300 times sweeter than table sugar. It is used in diet foods and drinks, and it may have a bitter aftertaste in drinks.
  • Stevia, also known as Truvia or PureVia, is 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar. It is made from a plant which is native to South America.

What does research say about artificial sweeteners?

Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began approving artificial sweeteners in 1958, there have been questions about their effects on overall health. You may have heard the rumors of studies showing that artificial sweeteners cause an increased risk for cancer. However, an investigation found flaws in early studies that showed a link between artificial sweeteners and cancer in rats. Further research has shown no clear evidence of a connection between artificial sweeteners and cancer in humans. In contrast, artificial sweeteners can help with weight loss and blood sugar control in people with diabetes. They can also help prevent dental decay.

What is the bottom line?

Carbohydrates, including sugar, are essential for everyday human functions. However, eating excess sugar can lead to weight gain and other health risks like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends certain limits to the amount of added sugar you consume per day. For women, no more than 6 teaspoons or 25 grams (100 calories). For men, the recommended limit is 9 teaspoons or 36 grams (150 calories). Artificial sweeteners are one option that can help you meet this recommendation.

Practice 

Try to meet the recommendation for added sugar (6 teaspoons a day for women, 9 teaspoons a day for men) by limiting sugary foods and drinks or by substituting with artificial sweeteners.

Recipes

Banana Pudding in a Cup
Peanut Butter Power Granola

Helpful Resources

Artificial Sweeteners Handout

References:

  1. Added Sugars. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars. Reviewed April 17, 2018.
  2. Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/artificial-sweeteners-fact-sheet. Reviewed August 10, 2016.
  3. Cording Jessica. Looking to Reduce Your Family's Intake of Added Sugars? Here's How. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/looking-to-reduce-your-familys-added-sugar-intake-heres-how. Published July 31, 2018.
  4. High-Intensity Sweeteners. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/high-intensity-sweeteners. Published May 19, 2014.
  5. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Us of Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2012;112(5): 739-758. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.03.009.
  6. Wax Emily, Zieve David. MedlinePlus. Sweeteners-Sugar Substitutes. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007492.htm. Reviewed August 7, 2017.