Safety and Benefits of Low or No Calorie Sweeteners

By Rosanne Rust MS, RDN, LDN  —

Unlike caloric sweeteners, a low or no calorie sweetener provides consumers with the sweetness they desire without adding calories or carbohydrate to the diet. Many low and no calorie sweeteners (LNCS) have decades of research behind them and multiple benefits for weight loss, use in diabetes management, and health. Sweeteners including saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, stevia, acesulfame potassium (or acesulfame K), and allulose have been studied for safety.

Why?

Why do we need LNCS? Most people are aware that obesity is an issue in the United States, and around the world. Many of the reduced-calorie and light products available to support calorie reductions for weight management or for blood sugar control in diabetes, would not be on the market without LNCS. Reducing sugar in the diet has been shown to help reduce calories, and possibly reduce the risks of disease, including metabolic syndrome – which can lead to diabetes and heart disease risk. LNCS has had a huge impact on many food categories, including sweetened beverages, which can help with overall reduction of sugar in the diet.

Quick Facts

The variety of options on the market today each offer properties that make them appealing to various food categories.

Saccharin is 300-500 times sweeter than sugar, and has been used as a non-caloric sweetener for over a century. In addition to its role as an ingredient to sweeten foods and beverages, it’s also a table top sweetener sold under the brand Sweet n’Low®. d.

Aspartame is nearly 200 times sweeter than sugar and has a sugar-like taste making it suitable for a variety of products such as beverages and chewing gum. It’s also a table top sweetener and is used under the name brand Equal®.

Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar, and is heat stable.Sucralose sweetens a host of foods and beverages, and is also available under the Splenda® No Calorie Sweetener.

Stevia is a sweetener derived from the plant, stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, to produce stevia leaf extract. It’s 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. This non-caloric sweetener is used as a tabletop sweetener under the brand name Stevia in the Raw® and Truvia.® It can be used in a variety of recipes, and is heat stable.

Acesulfame potassium can be used in beverage mixes as well as carbonated drinks. It’s highly heat stable, making it appealing for many types of products. It can be combined with aspartame and sucralose for an improved taste profile. It’s used in beverages,  a yogurt, ice cream, jams, jellies, baked goods, toothpaste, mouthwash and chewing gum.

Allulose is a low calorie sugar with a clean taste. Since it is absorbed, but not metabolized, it has no effect on blood sugar or insulin response.

Since each sweetener has unique food processing characteristics, LNCS are sometimes used in combination. Food manufacturers will experiment with recipes until they produce a product that is acceptable to consumers and has the taste, texture, and appeal of its higher calorie counterpart.

 

History and Safety

  • Saccharin was discovered over a hundred years ago, and is approved in over 100 countries around the world. Saccharin is a non-nutritive sweetener that is not metabolized by the body (it passes through the body unchanged). Early animal studies that questioned its safety aren’t considered relevant to humans, and even a 14 single-generation animal studies involving several species of animals, saccharin was not shown to induce cancer in any organ, even at exceptionally high dose levels.
  • Aspartame was approved for use in the United States in 1981. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “Aspartame is one of the most exhaustively studied substances in the human food supply, with more than 100 studies supporting its safety”. It’s composed of two naturally occurring amino acids (phenylalanine and aspartic acid) and methanol.
  • Stevia has been used for centuries in South America as a tea or sweetener. It’s been used in the US market since the mid 1990s. Stevia is approved by the FDA as a food additive and is on the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) list. It’s also globally approved as safe for use by leading medical and scientific authorities, including the European Food Safety Authority(EFSA) and the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).
  • Sucralose has been approved for use since 1998, and its safety has been validated by several health organizations, including the FDA, European Food Safety Authority, Health Canada and more.
  • Acesulfame K was approved by the FDA in 1988, extensively studied and also approved by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the World Health Organization and the Scientific Committee for Food of the European Union. It’s absorbed into the body and passes, unchanged, in urine.
  • Allulose came onto the market in 2015, and is GRAS by the (FDA for use as a food ingredient and in conjunction with other sweeteners.

 

Common Misconceptions


Weight Loss and Diabetes
Simply consuming LNCS will not promote weight loss, however there’s no data they they contribute to weight gain. Obesity is a complex disorder and treatment should be individualized. LNCS can however help in reduction in the risks associated with obesity, when full-caloric products are replaced with products sweetened with LNCS. A survey of members of the National Weight Control Registry, who have successfully kept weight off, indicated that LNCS helps in weight management. Using low calorie products can help with both weigh reduction and weight maintenance, and they can help support the maintenance of a diet for diabetes. LNCS also do not impact blood glucose or insulin levels.

Tooth Decay
LNCS are used to reduce calories in beverages, as a table top sweetener, in chewing gum, candies, frozen treats, jams, frostings, yogurt and beverages, and is also used in some medicines (such as cough syrup or cough drop). All of these applications can help reduce the risk of tooth decay.

Gut Health
Study of the gut microbiome is a new frontier in science. It’s possible that the health of the gut impacts overall health of all body systems. A study found that Splenda® (sucralose) promoted dysbiosis with expansion of Proteobacteriain in mice. Research on diets impact on gut health is just emerging, but LNCS may play a positive role.

 

Summary

In order to be used in our food supply, low and no calorie sweeteners are approved and regulated by the FDA. These sweeteners can play a role in a healthy lifestyle that combines sensible eating habits with physical activity.

A balanced lifestyle includes moderate portions of a variety of foods coupled with regular physical activity. Be sure to share the facts with your patients, using appropriate and scientific sources. Low or no calorie sweeteners can help your patients achieve their goal to reduce the sugar in their diets.

 

Rosanne Rust MS, RDN, LDN is a registered, licensed dietitian-nutritionist with over 25 years experience. Rosanne is a paid contributor to Allulose.org. As a Nutrition Communications Consultant  she delivers clear messages helping you understand the science of nutrition so you can enjoy eating for better health. Rosanne is the co-author of several books, including DASH Diet For Dummies® and the The Glycemic Index Cookbook For Dummies®. A wife, and mother of 3 boys, she practices what she preaches, enjoying regular exercise, good food and festive entertaining. Follow her on Twitter @RustNutrition.

faq2Do you have questions about low-calorie sweeteners? Want to learn more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle? You asked and we listened. Our resident Registered Dietitians answered the most popular questions about low-calorie sweeteners.