Sugar Substitutes: The Skinny On Sugar Substitutes

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 - 2:59pm

By Kathleen Goodwin, RD

With the increasing popularity and availability of artificial sweeteners, you’re probably wondering which one to use…or whether you should use one at all. To begin with, let’s remember that all artificial sweeteners on the market undergo intense FDA scrutiny before they’re approved as safe for human consumption. Hundreds of research studies are conducted to ensure that adverse side effects are virtually non-existent. Yet, many people still report certain sweetener brands trigger symptoms such as headaches, rashes, pain, and nausea. Nevertheless, the majority of people consume artificially sweetened products as a staple of daily life and experience no adverse affects. Here’s the latest on some of the most popular artificial sweeteners:

Acesulfame K (also known as Sunett, Sweet and Safe, Sweet One and Ace-K)

  • The safety of its use has been demonstrated in over 90 research studies.
  • The taste of Acesulfame K is not affected by high temperatures, which means it is good for use in hot beverages and in baked goods.
  • Acesulfame K is found in desserts, baked goods, beverages, canned foods, puddings, and as a tabletop sweetener
  • Acesulfame K does not affect blood sugar levels and is safe for use in diabetics

Aspartame (also known as Nutrasweet and Equal)

  • Aspartame has been the subject of over 200 research studies for over 30 years where its safety continues to be demonstrated.
  • Aspartame is composed of two amino acids (building blocks of protein) called aspartic acid and phenylalanine, which are found in everyday foods such as meats, grains, and dairy products.
  • Aspartame does not affect blood sugar levels and is safe for use in diabetics.
  • Aspartame is found in thousands of products all over the world including diet beverages, yogurt, puddings, baked goods, gum, Jell-O, frozen desserts, and tabletop sweeteners.
  • Those with the rare genetic disease phenylketonuria (PKU) should not use aspartame or any food product containing phenylalanine.
  • Some report dizziness and headaches after consuming aspartame. Despite lack of research to demonstrate these negative side effects, people who believe they are sensitive to aspartame should avoid it.
  • Be wary of the preponderance of sensationalized stories circulating on the Internet about aspartame being linked to an array of diseases including multiple sclerosis and others—there is no research to substantiate any of these claims.


  • Cyclamate is approved for use in more than 50 countries.
  • In 1970, cyclamate was banned in the United States due to a potential link between its use and cancer.
  • After further review of research studies, scientists now dispute a strong link between cyclamate and cancer. There is a petition at the FDA to reinstate its use.


  • FDA approved neotame in July 2002 after reviewing over 100 research studies which demonstrated its safety.
  • Neotame’s sweetness is not affected by heat.
  • Despite its approval for general use, there are currently no neotame-containing food products available on the market. Look for it as an up-and-coming new sweetener.

Saccharin (also known as Sweet & Low and Sugar Trim)

  • In 1977 the FDA proposed a ban on saccharin after increased incidence of bladder tumors were found in rats fed very high doses of sodium saccharin. However, this ban has since been lifted after numerous human studies failed to demonstrate a link between saccharin and cancer.
  • Heating does not affect saccharin’s sweetness.
  • Saccharin is safe for use in diabetics since it has no effect on blood sugar levels.
  • Saccharin is found widely in diet soft drinks and table top sweeteners.

Sucralose (also known as Splenda)

  • Sucralose is made from real sugar and has been proven as safe for consumption in over 100 research studies.
  • Sucralose is heat stable and can be used in baked goods and hot beverages.
  • Sucralose has no effect on blood sugar levels and is safe for use in diabetics.
  • Sucralose is found in dozens of products including carbonated soft drinks, low-calorie fruit drinks, canned fruit, maple syrup, apple sauce, and baked goods.

Final Note: Despite the increasing availability of reduced calorie products, obesity rates in the United States continue to soar. Thus, we need to acknowledge that calorie-free sugar substitutes are not a panacea, and must be combined with other measures, such as regular exercise and healthy reduced calorie diet, in order to be an effective tool for weight loss.