Skip to content

Food & Recipes

Font Size

Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?

WebMD gets the low down on artificial sweeteners on the shelves and in the pipeline.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

The way artificial sweeteners were discovered could have been a scene out of the classic comedy The Nutty Professor.

In 1879, Ira Remsen, a researcher from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., noticed that a derivative of coal tar he accidentally spilled on his hand tasted sweet. While he did not morph into the slim, but obnoxious Buddy Love as the characters played by Eddie Murphy and Jerry Lewis did in their film versions of the comedy, his spill set the stage for the development of saccharin -- an artificial sweetener known today to many seasoned dieters as Sweet-n-Low. This is now the most recognized name brand of the saccharin-based sugar substitutes.

Now more than 125 years later, saccharin is joined by a growing list of artificial sweeteners with varying chemical structures and uses including acesulfame potassium (Sunett); aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal); sucralose (Splenda), and D-Tagatose (Sugaree). And there's a whole host of new ones on the horizon.

These products substitute for sugar. For example, they can replace corn syrup, used in many sodas and sweetened drinks, and table sugars. However, the sweet remains in anything and everything from chocolate and ketchup to gum, ice cream, and soft drinks. But are artificial sweeteners safe? Can they help people shed extra weight? What role should they play in person's diet -- if any?

Here's what WebMD found out:

Artificial sweeteners, also called sugar substitutes, are compounds that offer the sweetness of sugar without the same calories. They are anywhere from 30 to 8,000 times sweeter than sugar and as a result, they have much fewer calories than foods made with table sugar (sucrose). Each gram of refined table sugar contains 4 calories. Many sugar substitutes have zero calories per gram.

"Artificial sweeteners can serve a definite purpose in weight loss and diabetes control," says New York City-based nutritionist Phyllis Roxland. "It enables people that are either carb-, sugar-, or calorie-conscious to take in a wider range of foods that they would either not be allowed to eat or could only eat in such teeny amounts that they were not satisfying." Roxland routinely counsels patients in the offices of Howard Shapiro, MD, a weight loss specialist and author of Picture Perfect Prescription.

In other words, artificial sweeteners allow people to stick to a good diet for a longer period of time, she says. In a diet, artificial sweeteners are considered "free foods." The sugar substitutes don't count as a carbohydrate, a fat, or any other exchange.

"These products can be useful when used appropriately for people like diabetics who need to control their sugar intake and in overweight people," agrees Ruth Kava, PhD, RD, director of nutrition for the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) in New York City.

Today on WebMD

Four spoons with mustards
What condiments are made of and how much to use.
salmon and spinach
How to get what you need.
 
grilled veggies
Easy ideas for dinner tonight.
Greek Salad
Health benefits, what you can eat and more.
 

WebMD Recipe Finder

Browse our collection of healthy, delicious recipes, from WebMD and Eating Well magazine.



bread
Recipes
soup
Recipes
 
roasted chicken
Recipes
grilled steak
Video
 

Loaded with tips to help you avoid food allergy triggers.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

vegetarian sandwich
Recipes
fresh vegetables
Recipes
 
smoothie
fitArticle
Foods To Boost Mens Heath Slideshow
Slideshow