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Sweeteners - artificial

Artificial sweeteners are substances that are used in place of sweeteners with sugar or sugar alcohols. They may also be called sugar substitutes.

See also: Sweeteners - sugar for information about sugars and sugar alcohols.


Sugar substitutes are helpful for people who are trying to lose weight or avoid gaining weight. They provide sweetness to foods and drinks without adding any extra calories.

Avoiding sugar by using artificial sweeteners can help prevent cavities, and it can help people with diabetes control their blood sugar.

Food Sources

All artificial sweeteners are chemically made or processed. They may be added to foods and drinks while you eat, and used during baking or other food preparation. Most diet or low-calorie food products you buy at the store are made using artificial sweeteners.

Aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet) is a combination of phenylalanine and aspartic acid, which are two amino acids.

  • Aspartame is 220 times sweeter than sugar. It loses its sweetness when exposed to heat.
  • Aspartame has been well studied, and it hasn't shown any serious side effects.

Sucralose (Splenda) is 600 times sweeter than sugar.

  • It is heat stable, meaning that it does not break down when cooked or baked. It is used in many diet foods and drinks.
  • Sucralose is also found in chewing gum, frozen dairy desserts, fruit juices, and gelatin.
  • It is also used as a sweetener that you add to foods at the table.

Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low, Sweet Twin, NectaSweet) is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar.

  • It is used in many diet foods and drinks. It may have a bitter or metallic aftertaste in some liquids. Saccharin is not used in cooking and baking.

Stevia (Truvia, Pure Via, Sun Crystals), a non-caloric sweetner, is made from the plant Stevia rebaudiana, which is grown for its sweet leaves.

  • It is commonly known as sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or simply stevia.
  • Rebaudiana extract is approved as a food additive. It is considered a dietary supplement.

Acesulfame K (Sunett and Sweet One) is an artificial sweetener.

  • It is heat stable and can be used in cooking and baking. It is also available as a tabletop sweetener, marketed under the name Sweet One.
  • It is FDA approved and is used together with other sweeteners, such as saccharin, in carbonated low-calorie beverages and other products.

Neotame is an artificial sweetener used in many diet foods and drinks.

Cyclamates are 30 times sweeter than sugar. They are banned in the United States because in 1970 they were shown to cause bladder cancer in animals.

Side Effects

There is no clear evidence that the artificial sweeteners sold and used in the United States are linked to cancer risk in humans.


The FDA regulates all artificial sweeteners that are sold or used in prepared foods in the United States. The FDA has set an acceptable daily intake (ADI) -- the amount that can be safely eaten each day over a person's lifetime.

The artificial sweeteners aspartame, acesulfame K, saccharin, neotame, and sucralose are all FDA approved.

Aspartame is not recommended for people with phenylketonuria (PKU). Their body is unable to break down one of the amino acids used to make aspartame.


Johnson RJ, Appel LJ, Brands M, Howard BV, Lefevre M, Lustig RH, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009;120:1011-1020.

Franz MJ, et al. 2008 American Diabetes Association Nutrition Recommendations and Guidelines. Diabetes Care. 2008;31(Suppl 1):S61-S78.

Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, Despres JP, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2010;33:2477-2483.

Untied States Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2010.

Artificial sweeteners and cancer . National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet. Last reviewed August 5, 2009.

Updated: 1/23/2012

A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Alison Evert, MS, RD, CDE, Nutritionist, University of Washington Medical Center Diabetes Care Center, Seattle, Washington (5/5/2011).

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