Facts About Low-Calorie Sweeteners

— Written By Lethia Lee and last updated by Cindy Nance

There is a lot of information on sweeteners and sugar. As I go out and teach about how much sugar we consume in our bodies from soft drinks I am often asked the question, what about low-calorie sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium, (Ace-K), advantame, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, stevia sweeteners, and sucralose? So I began to research this topic, which is so broad that I will not be able get all the information in one single article, so I will do it in parts.

When added to foods and beverages, these low-calorie sweeteners provide a taste that is similar to that of table sugar (sucrose), and are generally several hundred to several thousand times sweeter than sugar. They are often referred to as “intense” sweeteners because of their intense sweetening power. These sweeteners can be used in very small amounts and thus add only a negligible amount of calories to foods and beverages. As a result, they can substantially reduce or completely eliminate the calories in certain products such as diet beverages, light yogurt and sugar-free pudding. In addition, many low-calorie sweeteners do not contribute to cavities or tooth decay.

Something important for us to know is that low-calorie sweeteners are reviewed for safety by the federal government before being approved for use in foods and beverages. Low-calorie sweeteners are thoroughly tested and carefully regulated by US and international regulatory authorities, as well as scientific organizations, to ensure the safety of foods, beverages and other products that contain them. Current findings have documented that low-calorie sweeteners are safe for consumption as part of a balanced diet. Also, food and beverage manufactures are required to list low-calorie sweeteners in the ingredients list on the product label.

The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) must be determined by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prior to approval for any food ingredient, including low-calorie sweeteners, for use in foods and beverages in the US. The ADI is the amount of an ingredient (expressed in milligrams per kilogram of body weight) that a person can safely consume every day over a lifetime without risk. The ADI is set at one-hundredth of the amount that has been found not to produce any adverse health effects in key animal’s studies. Therefore, it would be very difficult for a person to consume enough of any low-calorie sweetener to reach the ADI. In fact, current intake of each low-calorie sweetener is well below the ADI.

Sound clinical studies conducted in humans over the past 20 years have shown that low-calorie sweeteners can help with weight loss and/or maintenance. The Choice (Choose Healthy Options Consciously Everyday) study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in March 2013, found that people who drink two diet beverages instead of two sugar-sweetened drinks every day enjoyed a healthy change in their overall food preferences and calorie intake. A 2006 review of aspartame’s role in weight management demonstrated a weight loss of 0.2 kg/ week (or 0.4 lb / week) when aspartame-sweetened products were substituted for those sweetened with sugar.

Experts agree that successful weight management requires more than just calorie reduction. Moderation, along with eating a balanced diet and regular exercise, is key to reaching an optimal weight.

For more information about sweeteners, contact Lethia Lee, EFNEP Assistant with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at 910-592-7161.