Comparing Artificial Sweeteners

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Comparing Artificial Sweeteners

Topic Overview

What are artificial sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners can be used instead of sugar to sweeten foods and drinks. You can add them to drinks like coffee or iced tea, and they are found in many foods sold in grocery stores. These sweeteners, also called sugar substitutes, are made from chemicals and natural substances.

Sugar substitutes have very few calories compared to sugar. Some have no calories. Many people use sugar substitutes as a way to limit how much sugar they eat, whether it's to lose weight, control blood sugar, or avoid getting cavities in their teeth.

The most common sugar substitutes are:

  • Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet). It's mostly used to sweeten diet soft drinks.
  • Saccharin (Hermesetas). In Canada, saccharin is only available from pharmacies. It is sold in tablet form. Health Canada does not allow food manufacturers to sell foods or beverages that contain saccharin.
  • Cyclamate (Sweet'N Low and Sugar Twin). Cyclamate is sold as a sweetener in packet, tablet, liquid, and granulated form. Health Canada does not allow food manufacturers to sell foods or beverages that contain cyclamate.
  • Sucralose (Splenda). It's in many diet foods and drinks.
  • Acesulfame K (Sunett). It's often combined with saccharin in diet soft drinks.

Stevia, another sugar substitute, is an herbal product found in health food stores. It is available as a sweetener that people can add to their food. It is also allowed to be used as a sweetener in a limited number of natural health products. But Health Canada does not allow food manufacturers to sell food products that are made with stevia.

Sugar alcohols are also used to sweeten diet foods and drinks. These plant-based products include mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol.

If your goal is to lose weight, keep in mind that even though a food is sugar-free, it can still have carbohydrate, fats, and calories. It's a good idea to read the nutrition label to check for calories and carbohydrate.

Are sugar substitutes safe?

Yes. Health Canada regulates the use of artificial sweeteners. It has found aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame K, and sugar alcohols safe for use in a wide range of foods and drinks. Cyclamate, saccharin and stevia are approved for use only in a small number of foods or as a supplement. If you are pregnant, check with your doctor before using saccharin.

At one time, saccharin was thought to increase the risk of bladder cancer in animals. Studies reviewed by Health Canada have found no clear evidence of a link between saccharin and cancer in humans. Health Canada is currently considering allowing saccharin to be used in food products.

People who have phenylketonuria (PKU) should avoid foods and drinks that have aspartame, which contains phenylalanine.1

Do artificial sweeteners raise blood sugar?

No. Artificial sweeteners provide no energy, so they won't affect your blood sugar. If you have diabetes, these substitutes are safe to use. But that's not true of sugar alcohols. They don't cause sudden spikes in blood sugar, but the carbohydrate in them can affect your blood sugar.

If you have diabetes, read food labels carefully to find out the amount of carbohydrate in each serving of food containing sugar alcohol. It's also a good idea to test your blood sugar after you eat foods with sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners to find out how they affect your blood sugar.

How do sugar substitutes compare?
Sweetener name Can be used for cooking and baking

Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)

No, because it breaks down during cooking

Cyclamate (Sweet'N Low)

Yes

Saccharin (Hermesetas)

Yes

Sucralose (Splenda)

Yes

Acesulfame K (Sunett)

Yes

Stevia (Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf)

Yes

References

Citations

  1. Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2008). Alternatives to sugar. In Understanding Nutrition, 11th ed., pp. 132–136. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Revised November 11, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.