Artificial sweeteners are substances that are used in place of sweeteners with sugar or sugar alcohols. They may also be called sugar substitutes, nonnutritive sweeteners (NNS), and noncaloric sweeteners.
Sugar substitutes can help people trying to lose weight. They provide sweetness to foods and drinks without adding extra calories.
Using artificial sweeteners in place of sugar can also help prevent dental decay and blood sugar control in people with diabetes.
All artificial sweeteners are chemically processed. They can be added to food and during preparation. You may also add them when you eat. Most diet or low-calorie food products you buy at the store are made using artificial sweeteners.
Aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet):
A combination of two amino acids -- phenylalanine and aspartic acid
220 times sweeter than sugar
Loses its sweetness when exposed to heat
Well-studied, and hasn't shown any serious side effects
600 times sweeter than sugar
Used in many diet foods and drinks, chewing gum, frozen dairy desserts, fruit juices, and gelatin
Can be added to food at the table
Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low, Sweet Twin, NectaSweet):
200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar
Used in many diet foods and drinks.
May have a bitter or metallic aftertaste in some liquids.
Not used in cooking and baking
Stevia (Truvia, Pure Via, Sun Crystals):
Non-caloric plant-based sweetener
Made from the plant Stevia rebaudiana, which is grown for its sweet leaves
Common names include sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or simply stevia.
Rebaudiana extract is approved as a food additive. It is considered a dietary supplement.
Acesulfame K (Sunett and Sweet One):
An artificial sweetener
Is heat-stable, so can be used in cooking and baking
This sweetener can be added to food at the table. It is marketed for this use under the name Sweet One.
Used together with other sweeteners, such as saccharin, in carbonated low-calorie beverages and other products
Used in many diet foods and drinks
Monk Fruit (Nectresse):
The powdered extract of monk fruit, a round green melon that grows in central Asia.
150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar
Heat stable and can used in baking and cooking and is more concentrated than sugar (¼ teaspoon equals the sweetness of 1 teaspoon sugar)
30 times sweeter than sugar
Banned in the United States because they were shown to cause bladder cancer in animals
People often have questions about the safety and health effects of artificial sweeteners.
In 2012 the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association published a report concluded that sensible use of NNS could help lower caloric and carbohydrate intake. Further research is still needed. There is also not enough evidence at this time to determine if NNS use lead to weight loss or lower heart disease risk.
More research is also needed on the safety of artificial sweeteners. There is no clear evidence that the artificial sweeteners sold and used in the United States are linked to cancer or coronary heart disease risk in humans.
The FDA regulates all artificial sweeteners that are sold or used in prepared foods in the United States. The FDA has set an acceptable daily intake (ADI) -- the amount that can be safely eaten each day over a person's lifetime.
The artificial sweeteners aspartame, acesulfame K, saccharin, neotame, and sucralose are all FDA approved.
Aspartame is not recommended for people with phenylketonuria (PKU). Their body is unable to break down one of the amino acids used to make aspartame.
American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association Scientific Statement: Nonnutritive Sweeteners: Current use and health perspectives. Circulation. 2012;126:509-519.
Wiebe N, Padwal R,Field C, Marks S, Jacobs R, Tonelli M: A systematic review of the effect of sweeteners on glycemic response and clinically relevant outcomes. BMC Med 9:123 2011.
Johnson RJ, Appel LJ, Brands M, Howard BV, Lefevre M, Lustig RH, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009;120:1011-1020.
Franz MJ, et al. 2008 American Diabetes Association Nutrition Recommendations and Guidelines. Diabetes Care. 2008;31(Suppl 1):S61-S78.
Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, Despres JP, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2010;33:2477-2483.
United States Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2010.
Artificial sweeteners and cancer. National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet. Last reviewed August 5, 2009.
Alison Evert, MS, RD, CDE, Nutritionist, University of Washington Medical Center Diabetes Care Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.