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. They are also 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. They may be limiting sugar 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 (Sweet'N Low, Sugar Twin). It's used in many diet foods and drinks.
- Sucralose (Splenda). It's in many diet foods and drinks.
- Acesulfame K (Sunett). It's often combined with saccharin in diet soft drinks.
- Stevia (Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf). Stevia is made from a herbal plant and is used in foods and drinks.
Sugar alcohols are also used to sweeten diet foods and drinks. These plant-based products include mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. If you eat too much of them, sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea and bloating.
A new sugar substitute called advantame was approved by the FDA in 2014. It's made from aspartame and vanillin. But it's about 100 times sweeter than aspartame.
If your goal is to lose weight, keep in mind that a food can be sugar-free but 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. The FDA regulates the use of artificial sweeteners. At one time, saccharin was thought to increase the risk of bladder cancer in animals. Studies reviewed by the FDA have found no clear evidence of a link between saccharin and cancer in humans.
People who have phenylketonuria (PKU) should avoid foods and drinks that have aspartame, which contains phenylalanine.1
Advantame also contains phenylalanine, but it is considered safe for people with PKU. That's because advantame is so sweet that only tiny amounts of it are used.