As dietitians, we get asked quite frequently about sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners. Are they safe? What is the best kind to use? How much or how little should I be consuming? The list goes on.
The general consensus is that sugar substitutes are safe however the FDA has set Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) levels for each artificial sweetener as there has been many questions about their safety. The ADI is the maximum amount of a food additive that can be safely consumed on a daily basis over a person’s lifetime without any adverse effects. Here are some examples of different sugar substitutes, some examples of products that contain them, and their ADI.
Saccharin: Also known as Sweet n’ Low, was discovered in the last 1800’s and is 300 times sweeter than sugar. It can be found in Crest toothpaste and Pepto-Bismol for example. For saccharin, the ADI is 5 mg/kg of body weight. There is 140 mg in a 12 ounce diet soda and 40 mg in a packet of saccharin.
Aspartame: Also known as Equal, was approved by the FDA as a dry ingredient in foods in 1981. It is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar. Examples of products that contain aspartame include Diet Coke and Mrs. Butterworth’s sugar-free syrup. The ADI for aspartame is 50 mg/kg of body weight and there is 200 mg in one 12 ounce diet soda and 35 mg in a packet.
Acesulfame-K: This is also 200 times sweeter than sugar. Known as Sweet One, it was approved in 1998. Studies show that 95% of the consumed sweetener ends up excreted in urine because our body can’t break it down. It can be found in Glucerna shakes or Halls sugar-free cough drops. Acesulfame-K’s ADI is 15 mg/kg of body weight. The average amount in one 12 ounce can of diet soda is 40 mg and there is 50 mg in a packet.
Sucralose: Also known as Splenda, was approved by the FDA in 1999 and is 600 times sweeter than table sugar. Yoplait Greek 100 calorie yogurt and Heinz Reduced-sugar tomato ketchup contain sucralose. For sucralose, the ADI is 5 mg/kg of body weight and there is 70 mg in a 12 ounce diet soda and 5 mg in a packet of sucralose.
Stevia: Stevia was added to the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list by the FDA in 2008 for use as a tabletop sweetener and in prepared foods. It is a “natural” sweeter coming from the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni bush. It is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar and is calorie-free. Sweetleaf and Truvia are two brands that use stevia. It can be found in Wishbone fat-free dressing or So-Be life water for example. Stevia’s ADI is 0-4 mg/kg of body weight for stevia glycoside or 12 mg/kg of rebiana. A packet contains 27 mg of Stevia.
There are also sugar alcohols, known as polyols, which are sugar replacers that have about half the calories of sugar so still contribute calories but not as many as regular sugar. Examples include sorbitol or xylitol. Consuming too much, however, could cause digestive issues, so moderate amounts of 10-15 grams per day are suggested.
The bottom line on artificial sweeteners is that they are safe for use in the general population and have been shown to possibly help decrease caloric intake if replacing regular table sugar. Special populations such as pregnant women should limit use to FDA approved number and avoid saccharin. For more information visit http://www.eatright.org for more information.