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 alcoholsare 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.
Are artificial sweeteners safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding?
A nutrient-rich diet is important for both you and your baby when you are pregnant or breastfeeding. And it's not a good idea to diet when you are breastfeeding. It's fine to have a diet drink or artificially sweetened foods now and then. But be sure they don't take the place of the nutrient-rich foods you need while you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
The following artificial sweeteners are considered safe to use in moderation during pregnancy and breastfeeding:
- Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
- Acesulfame K (Sunett)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- Stevia (Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf)
- Advantame (no brand name)
- Sugar alcohols, which include mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol
Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low, Sugar Twin) is deemed safe by the FDA for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. But you may want to check with your doctor before you use it. Some pregnant women choose to avoid saccharin because it has been shown to cross the placenta to the fetus.
Do artificial sweeteners raise blood sugar?
No. Artificial sweeteners provide no energy, so they won't affect your blood sugar. If you have diabetes, these substitutes are safe to use. But that's not true of sugar alcohols. They don't cause sudden spikes in blood sugar, but the carbohydrate in them can affect your blood sugar.
If you have diabetes, read food labels carefully to find out the amount of carbohydrate in each serving of food containing sugar alcohol. It's also a good idea to test your blood sugar after you eat foods with sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners so you can find out how they affect your blood sugar.
- Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2013). The carbohydrates: Sugars, starches, and fibers. In Understanding Nutrition, 13th ed., pp. 94–123. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Current as of: September 8, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator