Even though many everyday foods - from cereals to chewing gum to diet beverages - are sweetened with artificial sweeteners, many Americans still wonder if these substances are really safe. Are they harmful? What are the possible side effects of regularly consuming them?
Sugar substitutes are compounds that offer the sweetness of sugar without adding to the calories or elevating blood sugar. These non-nutritive (i.e., no-calorie) sweeteners are highly concentrated; their sweetness ranges from 200 to 13,000 times sweeter than regular sugar. They are helpful for many people trying to cut down on the number of calories they consume, to lose weight, and to control diabetes.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved five artificial sweeteners that are reportedly safe to consume daily over a lifetime. In order for an artificial sweetener to be FDA approved, it must be tested for safety. Although numerous studies have been conducted on artificial sweeteners and their relation to cancer, research has found no evidence to support such a link in humans.
With all the dietary supplements around that are not regulated by the FDA, I thought it would be enlightening to list the calorie-free sugar substitutes that are approved by the FDA:
- Aspartame. Teaspoon for teaspoon, aspartame has the same number of calories as sugar, but with one big difference: Since aspartame is 200 times sweeter, most amounts of it consumed are virtually calorie free. It is sold under the brand names NutraSweet®, Sugar Twin®, and Equal® and is typically found as a tabletop sweetener or as an ingredient in chewing gums, breakfast cereals, and soft drinks.
- Saccharin. Sold under the brand names Sweet'N Low®, Sweet Twin®, and Necta Sweet®, saccharin is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar. It is typically found as a tabletop sweetener or as an ingredient in chewing gums, soft drinks, baked goods, and jams.
- Acesulfame-K. Also 200 times sweeter than sugar, Acesulfame-K is sold under the brand names Sunnet® and Sweet One®. It is typically found as a tabletop sweetener and in baked goods, frozen desserts, candies, beverages, cough drops, and breath mints.
- Neotame. This one packs a real wallop - it's 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar - and is typically found in baked goods, soft drinks, chewing gums, frostings, frozen desserts, jams, jellies, gelatins, puddings, processed fruits and fruit juices, toppings, and syrups.
- Sucralose. Sold under the brand name Splenda® and approved as a general-purpose sweetener in all foods, sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar.
More and more new products are being prepared with these artificial sweeteners, making those foods very low in calories or entirely calorie-free. For more information on artificial sweeteners and their safety, visit: www.fda.gov or www.eatright.org.