Artificial Sweeteners

The average American consumes a whopping 152 pounds of “added” sugars a year. That’s way, way, beyond the 6-9 teaspoons a day of added sugar the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends as a limit.

If you have diabetes, it’s especially important to keep an eye on sugar intake. Of course that’s not as easy as it sounds because sugar is found in everything from salad dressing and ketchup to energy bars and yogurt. For people with diabetes, consuming added sugars can increase carbohydrate and calorie intake without providing quality nutrition. To help people reduce their sugar intake, artificial sweeteners can be used instead.

Here’s what you need to know about sugar and artificial sweeteners:

The Basics

Artificial sweeteners, or sugar substitutes, are used to sweeten foods and drinks without adding carbohydrates or calories. That said, many foods and beverages that are sweetened artificially may still contain calories from carbohydrates, which also causes blood glucose to rise. Be sure to read labels carefully so you can keep a close eye on overall carb intake.

Which Artificial Sweeteners are Available?

There are five artificial sweeteners with U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. They are found in foods and beverages, and also sold packaged to use in cooking and baking. The five artificial sweeteners available today are:

  • acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One): it is heat stable and so can be used in cooking.
  • aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal): people that need to avoid phenylalanine should not use this sweetener.  Most people avoid cooking with this as high temperatures affects its sweetness. 
  • saccharin (Sweet N Low, Sweet Twin, Sugar Twin): the oldest of the sweeteners, this can be used in cooking.
  • sucralose (Splenda): Splenda could be used in cooked products. 

Is Stevia An Artificial Sweetener?

And there’s a sixth: rebaudioside, or Stevia. But because Stevia comes from a plant, it is not technically an artificial sweetener, but it is another zero calorie option.

How Artificial Sweeteners Taste

Artificial sweeteners are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. Every artificial sweetener has a slightly different taste. Others leave a bitter aftertaste in the mouth. You may have to try several until you find one that you like.

How Artificial Sweeteners Can Help

Small changes can make a big difference. Swapping artificially sweetened beverages for sugar-sweetened ones can save you dozens of grams of carbohydrates and hundreds of calories, every day. For example, if you drink two 12-ounce sodas daily, you’re consuming 80 grams of carbohydrates and 300 calories. If you choose diet soda, or zero-calorie sweetened soda water, you’re saving a ton of calories. If you swap 2 teaspoons of sugar in your morning coffee for one packet of artificial sweetener, you save 32 calories and 10 grams of carbohydrates.  That said, studies do not show that using artificial sweeteners can help with weight loss.

Artificial Sweetener Side Effects 

Although artificial sweeteners have been under the microscope of the public eye for decades, there is no clear evidence that artificial sweeteners cause any side effects. Studies in the early 1970s linked saccharin to increased rates of bladder cancer in laboratory rats, but subsequent studies proved conclusively that these results applied only to rats, and not to humans. 

There was a scare in the mid-1990s when a report was released suggesting that aspartame might have led to an increase in the number of people with brain tumors between 1975 and 1992. However, a closer look at the data shows no proof whatsoever to these claims.

Numerous studies in the past few decades have confirmed that artificial sweeteners are safe in reasonable quantities, even for pregnant women.