There are many artificial sweeteners on the market today, and it can be confusing for parents to understand what they are and where they are found in food. Artificial sweeteners are generally created in a lab, with the exception of Stevia, which is extracted from a plant.
Artificial sweeteners are substitutes for sugar with low or no calories. They are very sweet, and thus small amounts are adequate to match the sweetness of sugar. Manufacturers are required to list all ingredients for a product on the ingredient label, including artificial sweeteners.
Nearly 180 million Americans eat and drink sugar-free products daily. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates artificial sweeteners and has approved five artificial sweeteners for human consumption:
Aspartame (known as Nutra-Sweet; Equal): Consumed by more than 200 million people worldwide, aspartame is found in sugar-free products such as carbonated soft drinks, powdered soft drinks, chewing gum, candy, Jell-O, dessert mixes, puddings and fillings, frozen desserts, yogurt, some vitamins and sugar-free cough drops. To find whether a product contains aspartame, read the ingredient label.
Saccharin (known as Sweet-n-Low; Sugar Twin): This is the most studied artificial sweetener on the market. Most research was conducted in rats, where they found that male rats fed high doses of sodium saccharin had a higher risk of acquiring bladder tumors. However, extensive research in humans (over 30 studies) supports its safety when consumed in normal human doses. In fact, the National Cancer Institute states there is “no clear evidence that the artificial sweeteners available commercially in the US are associated with cancer rise in humans.” Saccharin is found in baked goods, chewing gum, jam, canned fruit, candy, dessert toppings, salad dressings, cosmetics and vitamins.
Acesulfamide-K (known as Sweet One; Swiss Sweet; Sunett; Sweet-Safe): Ace-K is used in over 5,000 products in 100 countries and is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is often found blended with other artificial sweeteners to create a cleaner sugar taste. Almost 100 studies have been conducted to assure its safety. You can find Ace-K in carbonated beverages, powdered beverages, fruit juice, dairy products, ice cream, desserts, Jell-O, fruit preserves, jam, jelly, baked goods, chewing gum, marinated fish, toothpaste, mouthwash, yogurt, breakfast cereals, snack foods, soups and more.
Sucralose (known as Splenda): A no-calorie artificial sweetener made from sugar that is specially processed to remove the carbohydrate (and calories). It’s heat stable and can be used in baking and other cooking methods. More than 110 scientific studies have been conducted and sucralose is approved for use in over 80 countries and found in over 4,000 products such as yogurt, syrup, canned fruit, and ice cream.
Neotame: The newest artificial sweetener approved by the FDA, it is 40 times sweeter than aspartame and is also used as a flavor enhancer. More than 100 scientific studies in animals and humans have been conducted to determine its safety. It is approved for use in beverages, gum, dairy products, frozen desserts and baked goods. It is heat tolerant and can be used as a stand-alone sweetener or blended with other artificial sweeteners. It is used in over 1,000 products worldwide.
Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS):
Stevia: Found in a plant native to South America, Stevia is used as non-caloric sweetener and flavor enhancer. It was allowed as a food additive in 2008 and classified as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). Two chemicals found in Stevia—stevioside and rebaudioside A—are regarded as “likely safe” for use as a sweetener. Stevioside has been studied only recently; rebaudioside A has GRAS status. You can find Stevia in beverages like bottled and flavored waters, juice drinks, sweetened tea drinks as well as ice cream, pickling products, colas, soy sauce, gum, canned foods, candy, yogurt and rice wine.
- Sugar substitutes, or artificial sweeteners, are made to have the sweetness of sugar without the calories.
- The FDA has approved five artificial sweeteners, including Sweet-n-Low and Splenda.
- Stevia, while not an FDA-approved artificial sweetener, is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).
- Artificial sweeteners are usually created in labs.