The Sweet and Sour Points of Artificial Sweeteners

Sugar and artificial sweetenersWith so many artificial, or non-nutritive, sweeteners on the market and so much information available to consumers, it can be hard to determine which claims are valid.


UW Health Nutritionist Gail Underbakke helps us uncover the truth about sweeteners.

An Overview


Artificial, or non-nutritive, sweeteners are used in products to provide a sweet taste, with fewer calories and little or no effect on blood sugar compared to table sugar (sucrose).


The products listed below are FDA approved, and an acceptable daily limit has been established for each. However, if artificially sweetened foods are used in large amounts, it is possible to consume more than the "safe" amount, increasing the chance of negative side effects.


Just as you would with table sugar, it is important to watch your intake and use moderation as a guide. The FDA must study and provide evidence that a sweetener is safe before it is placed on the market.


Sucralose (brand name SPLENDA®) is a synthetic compound which contains zero calories per gram.  The acceptable daily intake (ADI) is 5 mg/kg body weight/day, and it is 600 times sweeter than sucrose.


Acesulfame potassium (brand names Sunett® and Sweet One®) is a synthetic compound which contains zero calories per gram. The ADI is 15 mg/kg body weight/day and it is 200 times sweeter than sucrose.


Aspartame (brand name NutraSweet® or Equal®) is a synthetic compound which contains approximately four calories per gram. The ADI is 50 mg/kg body weight/day and it is 180 times sweeter than sucrose.


Neotame is a synthetic compound which contains zero calories per gram. The ADI is 18 mg/kg body weight/day and it is 7,000 times sweeter than sucrose.


Saccharin (brand names Sweet'N Low® and SugarTwin®) is a synthetic compound which contains zero calories per gram. The compound is permitted for use under an interim regulation and it is 300 times sweeter than sucrose.


Stevia (brand names Truvia® and Pure Via™) is naturally occurring in the leaves of the Stevia plant and is a non-caloric sweetener that is 30 times sweeter than sucrose.


The Benefits


Sugar of various types will raise blood sugar, can raise triglyceride levels and adds calories to the diet. At 48 calories per tablespoon, and no vitamins and minerals, sugar is viewed as empty calories.


Sugar substitutes contain virtually no calories and are not absorbed by the body in the same way that sugar is, which allows diabetics to use sugar substitutes without raising blood sugar. Also, given that these products contain zero calories, this may be a good alternative for those on a weight loss program.


The Disadvantages


Sugar substitutes are much sweeter than sugar, so some studies suggest that those who consume sugar substitutes can develop an increased desire for sweets.


Some studies also suggest that artificial sweeteners might confuse the brain by providing a sweet taste without energy, resulting in increased hunger levels. Cancer and other diseases are listed as concerns, but if the sweeteners are consumed in moderation, the risk is very low.


As far as using agave nectar, honey or maple sugar as a substitute, these sweeteners contain calories similar to sucrose and will raise blood sugar. However, they do have a more interesting flavor than sucrose, which might allow a person to use smaller amounts.



  • Choose whole foods when possible. Try to eat fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth
  • All types of juice should be used in small amounts, as they contain a lot of sugar
  • It is important for individuals to evaluate the facts and make a personal decisions about sugar substitutes

Source: Sugar Substitutes and Your Health by Kathleen Meister, M.S., and The American Council on Science and Health