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Side-by-Side Comparisons of Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial Sweeteners Explained

There are so many artificial sweeteners out there that it's hard to keep them straight. And with all the information swirling around about the safety of each one, it can be hard to know which to choose. If you're a fan of sugar substitutes, here's a list of the artificial sweeteners and the big pros and cons of each.

Acesulfame Potassium (Sunett and Sweet One)

  • Calories: 0
  • History: was approved by the FDA as a general-purpose sweetener in 2002
  • General Info: 200 times sweeter than regular sugar; the body can't break it down, so it's excreted from the body unchanged,
  • Pros: no evidence of its connection to an increase in cancer risk or affect to blood-sugar levels; approved for consumption by pregnant women in moderation
  • Cons: has a bitter taste on its own; the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest believes that studies on this sweetener were poorly done and that they didn't test its potential cancer-causing risks
  • Used for baking? Yes

Aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal)

  • Calories: 4 calories per gram
  • History: in 1996, the FDA approved its use in foods and beverages
  • General Info: 80 to 200 times sweeter than regular sugar; 70 percent of all aspartame is used in diet sodas; The FDA has set the acceptable daily intake (ADI) at 50 mg per kilogram of body weight which translates to about four (12-oz.) cans of diet soda per day;
  • Pros: approved for consumption by pregnant women, as long as they follow the FDA's guidelines; FDA sees no connection between aspartame and cancer
  • Cons: some people may have a sensitivity to aspartame and may experience headaches, dizziness, mood changes, or skin reactions after consuming it
  • Used for baking? No

Neotame

Keep reading for info about saccharin, Stevia, and xylitol.

Saccharin (Sweet'N Low)

  • Calories: 0
  • History: the FDA proposed a ban on it in 1977 when lab rats that were fed huge amounts contracted bladder cancer. The ban was never enacted though, and the warning label was dropped in 2000
  • General Info: 300 times sweeter than regular sugar; it's a molecule made from petroleum
  • Pros: since 1981 government reports had listed it as an "anticipated human carcinogen," but it was removed from the list in 2000
  • Cons: few studies have been done regarding its effects on infants and children, although its use in formula may cause irritability and muscle dysfunction, so they should consume it in small quantities or not at all; although the FDA has not imposed any limitations, studies show saccharin crosses the placenta and may remain in fetal tissue, so pregnant women are advised to use saccharin sparingly or not at all
  • Used for baking? Yes

Sorbitol and Mannitol

  • Calories: 2.6 calories per gram
  • History: the FDA approved them in 1971 and designates them as "Generally Recognized as Safe" (GRAS)
  • General Info: both are sugar alcohols that occur naturally in fruits but are usually derived from corn syrup
  • Pros: absorbed by the body slowly; combines well with other ingredients; no evidence that it has adverse health effects on humans
  • Cons: may cause digestive upset or have laxative effect when consumed in large quantities
  • Used for baking? Yes

Stevia

  • Calories: 0
  • History: Stevia leaves are not yet approved by the FDA, but highly purified Rebaudioside A (derived from Stevia leaves) is considered GRAS
  • General Info: Stevia extract is made from the Stevia plant, which is native to South America; has been used in South America for centuries and in Japan for the past 30 years
  • Pros: it's naturally derived although some argue that it is an artificial sweetener since commercially made Stevia extract involves a refining process; some research shows it can lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels; safe for pregnant women
  • Cons: since Stevia is sold as a dietary supplement, the FDA does not regulate it
  • Used for baking? Yes

Sucralose (Splenda)

  • Calories: 0
  • History: approved by the FDA in 1999
  • General Info: contains maltodextrin to bulk it up, is 600 times sweeter than regular sugar
  • Pros: after 110 studies and over 20 years of research, the FDA concluded that sucralose has no toxic or carcinogenic effects and poses no reproductive or neurological risks to people
  • Cons: bulking agents add about 12 calories per tablespoon of Splenda (although the nutritional info doesn't list these calories)
  • Used for baking? Yes, yet has an artificial taste

Xylitol

  • Calories: 2.4 calories per gram
  • History: approved by the FDA in 1963 as a food additive
  • General Info: can be derived from various berries, oats, and mushrooms, as well as corn husks, but commercially is made from xylan, which is extracted from hardwoods or corncobs; used as a diabetic sweetener
  • Pros: it can actually benefit the teeth; doesn't affect insulin levels; has been shown to reduce the incidence of acute middle ear infection
  • Cons: may have a laxative effect; is a life-threatening toxin to dogs; consuming extremely high doses for long periods (over three years) may cause tumors, safety for pregnant and nursing moms is unknown
  • Used for baking? Yes

Approved sugar substitutes have gone through extensive studies to get the OK from the FDA, and there have been no widespread claims of health issues regarding any of these sweeteners. Even so, does the fact that one packet of real sugar contains only 11 calories (four calories per gram) make you want to stick to regular sugar?

— Additional reporting by Leta Shy

Source: Flickr user Carolyn Coles

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