Sweeteners - sugar substitutes

Definition

Sugar substitutes are substances that are used in place of sweeteners with sugar (sucrose) or sugar alcohols. They may also be called artificial sweeteners, non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS), and noncaloric sweeteners.

Alternative Names

High-intensity sweeteners; Non-nutritive sweeteners - (NNS); Nutritive sweeteners; Noncaloric sweeteners; Sugar alternatives

Function

Sugar substitutes may be helpful for people trying to lose weight. They provide sweetness to foods and drinks without adding a lot of extra calories. Most of these contain almost no calories.

Using sugar substitutes in place of sugar can help prevent dental decay. They also may help with blood sugar control in people with diabetes.

Food Sources

Sugar substitutes can be added to food when you eat. Most can also be used during cooking and baking. Most "sugar-free" or low-calorie food products you buy at the store are made using sugar substitutes.

Commonly used sugar substitutes include:

Aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet)

Sucralose (Splenda)

Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low, Sweet Twin, NectaSweet)

Stevia (Truvia, Pure Via, Sun Crystals)

Acesulfame K (Sunett and Sweet One)

Neotame (Newtame)

Monk Fruit (Luo Han Guo)

Advantame

Side Effects

People often have questions about the safety and health effects of sugar substitutes. Many studies have been done on FDA-approved sugar substitutes, and they have been shown to be safe. Based on these studies, the FDA states they are safe for use for the general population.

Aspartame is not recommended for people with PKU. Their body is not able to break down one of the amino acids used to make aspartame.

There is little evidence to support the use of or avoidance of sugar substitutes during pregnancy. FDA-approved sweeteners are fine to use in moderation. However, the American Medical Association suggests avoiding saccharin during pregnancy due to possible slow fetal clearance.

Recommendations

The FDA regulates all sugar substitutes that are sold or used in prepared foods in the United States. The FDA has set an acceptable daily intake (ADI). This is the amount a person can safely eat each day over a lifetime. Most people eat far less than the ADI.

In 2012, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association published a report that concluded that sensible use of sugar substitutes could help lower caloric and carbohydrate intake. There is also not enough evidence at this time to determine if sugar substitute use leads to weight loss or lower heart disease risk. Some research suggests that they may lead to an increase in weight. Further research is still needed.

References

Aronson JK. Artificial sweeteners. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier; 2016:713-716.

Azad MB, Abou-Setta AM, Chauhan BF, et al. Nonnutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. CMAJ. 2017;189(28). PMID: 28716847 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28716847/.

Gardner C, Wylie-Rosett J, Gidding SS, et al; American Heart Association Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism, Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young, and the American Diabetes Association. Nonnutritive sweeteners: current use and health perspectives: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. Circulation. 2012;126(4):509-519. PMID: 22777177 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22777177/.

National Cancer Institute website. Artificial sweeteners and cancer. www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/artificial-sweeteners-fact-sheet. Updated August 10, 2016. Accessed November 11, 2021.

US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th edition. www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Updated December 2020. Accessed November 11, 2021.

US Food and Drug Administration website. High-intensity sweeteners. www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/high-intensity-sweeteners. Updated December 19, 2017. Accessed November 11, 2021.

US Food and Drug Administration website. Additional information about high-intensity sweeteners permitted for use in food in the United States. www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/additional-information-about-high-intensity-sweeteners-permitted-use-food-united-states. Updated February 8, 2018. Accessed November 111, 2021.


Review Date: 10/10/2021
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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