The Skinny on Artificial Sweeteners

We all crave a little bit of sweetness from time to time, but perhaps not with all of the added sugar. That’s where artificial sweeteners might come into play, also known as, “non-nutritive sweeteners,” “high intensity sweeteners,” or “sugar substitutes.” Many benefit from their use for weight management, diabetic management, and dental care, such as in the use of chewing gum, since they provide zero calories and carbohydrates. But, are they all safe to use and how much is too much?  

What’s on the market?

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves six artificial sweeteners as “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) for use as food additives, which include, saccharin (SugarTwin©, Sweet’N Low©), aspartame (Equal©, Nutrasweet©), acesulfame potassium “Ace-K” (Sweet One©, Sunnett©), sucralose (Splenda©), neotame (Newtame®, made by Nutrasweet©) and advantame, a derivative of aspartame that is the newest artificial sweetener approved by the FDA.

The FDA has yet to approve two additional non-nutritive sweeteners, stevia (Truvia© and PureVia©) and luo han guo (Nectresse©, Monk Fruit in the Raw©, PureLo©). The FDA affirmed the GRAS status of portions of these artificial sweeteners; however, the verdict is still out about all forms of the plant being safe for use. With Stevia, the FDA approved “Reb A,” from the stevia plant, as a safe sugar substitute, and advises individuals to look for it in the ingredient label (Reb A is used in Truvia and PureVia).

Safety of Use

There have been safety concerns raised with the use of artificial sweeteners over the years, and FDA prematurely approving their use. Given the lack of long-term evidence associated with non-nutritive sweeteners, consumers should use caution and watch overall intake. Some studies have suggested that non-nutritive sweeteners might result in insulin secretion, which is what we see with consumption of regular sugar. For this reason, some believe including non-nutritive sweeteners can lead to additional hunger or food cravings. Limiting non-nutritive sweeteners to one per day is recommended, as well as monitoring any changes in hunger and satiety.

How much is too much?

We currently have Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) levels established for all of the non-nutritive sweeteners, which measures the amount that would be considered safe to consume everyday over the course of an individual’s lifespan. Luckily, the ADIs are significantly more than what someone – even someone who profusely enjoys sugar alternatives – would consume. For example, according to the FDA’s ADI table, the number of tabletop sweetener packets equivalent to ADI for Ace-K is 23 packets, for aspartame it’s 75, and for stevia it’s 23. Moderation is key when consuming any of these products, but it’s clear to see that it would be difficult to reach these levels! See below chart for additional information:

Non-Nutritive SweetenerAcceptable Daily Intake (ADI)Number of Packets
Acesulfame
Potassium (Ace-K)
15 mg/kg body weight/day23
Advantame32.8 mg/kg body weight/day4,920
Aspartame50 mg/kg body weight/day75
Neotame0.3 mg/kg body weight/day23
Saccharin15 mg/kg body weight/day45
Luo Han GuoNot specifiedNot specified
Stevia4 mg/kg body weight/day9
Sucralose (Splenda)5 mg/kg body weight/day23

References

Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for use in Food in the United States. FDA Website. http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm397725.htm. Accessed 12/2/2015.

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