Comparing Artificial Sweeteners: How Do They Stack Up?

Understanding the 5 Major Sweeteners on the Market

artificial sweeteners
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Americans eat an average of 20 teaspoons of sugar a day, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Most of this sugar is hidden in the foods we buy. Sugar is found in obviously sweet foods, like sodas and packaged baked goods, and also in the not-so-obvious, like spaghetti sauces and canned soups. Artificial sweeteners replace sugar and cut calories in a host of products from oatmeal to fruit juice.

Artificial sweeteners are so much sweeter than sugar that very small amounts are needed to create a sweet taste. That is what minimizes the calories of the sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners contribute almost no carbohydrates to foods, so people with diabetes can enjoy their favorite foods without affecting blood glucose levels (keep in mind, however, that even "sugar-free" foods may still contain carbohydrates, which become sugar in your body).

While there are many artificial sweeteners in foods (you can spot sugar alcohols on food labels by their "-ol" ending), these are the five major FDA-approved artificial sweeteners on the market.

Should You Use Sugar Substitutes?

Saccharin

Saccharin is the original artificial sweetener, developed in 1879. After being suspected of causing bladder cancer in rats in 1972, many studies were done which ultimately disproved any link to cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, "Human epidemiology studies (studies of patterns, causes, and control of diseases in groups of people) have shown no consistent evidence that saccharin is associated with bladder cancer incidence." 

Times sweeter than sugar: 200 to 700

Brand names: Sweet N' Low, Sweet Twin and Necta Sweet.

Aspartame

Aspartame was approved by the FDA in 1981. Its chemical compound breaks down into a substance known as phenylalanine. This can pose a danger for people who have Phenylketonuria, (PKU), but overall aspartame is considered safe for the general public.

Times sweeter than sugar: 200 

Brand names: Equal and Nutrasweet

Acesulfame-K

Acesulfame-K was approved in 1988 as a "tabletop sweetener" and in 2003 as a general purpose sweetener. It is not metabolized by the body, which means that no calories are absorbed when eaten. It is frequently blended with other artificial sweeteners.

Times sweeter than sugar: 200 

Brand names: Sweet One and Sunett

Sucralose

Sucralose is derived from sugar, but it is 600 times sweeter. It isn't absorbed by the body, so it does not add calories to foods. In 1999, it was approved as a general purpose sweetener. It can also be used in home baking to reduce calories in homemade foods.

Times sweeter than sugar: 600

Brand name: Splenda

Neotame

Neotame is a cousin to aspartame and is the most intensely sweet of the artificial sweeteners. It was approved in 2002 as a general purpose sweetener. Although it is related to aspartame, it doesn't carry the same warning about phenylalanine, because a minimal amount of phenylalanine is produced during digestion.

Times sweeter than sugar: 7,000 to 13,000

Brand name: Newtame

Sources:

"Artificial Sweeteners: No Calories... Sweet!" FDA Consumer Magazine Vol. 40, Number 4, July-August 2006 

"Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer: Questions and Answers." National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet. 05 Oct 2006. National Cancer Institute. 

Artificial Sweetener Reference Chart

ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
GENERIC NAMEBRAND NAMESWEETNESS FACTORUSESADDITIONAL FACTSFDA APPROVAL
SaccharinSweet'N Low, Sweet Twin, Necta Sweet, Equal200-700 times sweeter than sugarTabletop sweetener, beverages, baked goods, jams, gum.Heat stable1879
AspartameNutrasweet200 x sweeter than sugarIn processed foods and beveragesNot heat stable1981
Acesulfame-KSunett, Sweet One200 times sweeter than sugarGeneral purposeHeat stable to 392 degrees F1998
SucraloseSplenda600 times sweeter than sugarGeneral purposeCan be used in home baking1998
NeotameNewtame7,000 - 13,000 times sweeter than sugarGeneral purposeSimilar to aspartame2002

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