Low Calorie Sweeteners: Separating Fact from Fiction

By Adriana Valencia, RD, CDE

 

Low calorie sweeteners are a hot topic right now, especially as they pertain to people living with diabetes. The subject seems to pop up on the news, on social media, in articles and in magazines.  As a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, I get great questions about low calorie sweeteners almost every day. I know it can be hard to sort out the truth about these sweeteners given all the information we hear from various sources, so I hope this article helps shed some light!

Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions I hear about low calorie sweeteners:

Will low calorie sweeteners raise my blood sugar?

Low calorie sweeteners will not raise blood sugars! You can add them to tea and coffee or consume them in diet beverages. Most retail low calorie sweeteners do contain a small amount of carbohydrate to provide volume for consistent sweetening; however this is typically no more than 2 grams per serving. So if you are noticing a blood sugar spike you may want to check out the carbs in what you are eating with the sweetener.

Are these types of sweeteners safe for me to have?

As you can see from the table below from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), no calorie sweeteners are safe to consume. They have been studied extensively and you can even figure out what a safe upper daily amount is for you based on your weight.

What if I want to use agave, honey or sugar in the raw instead?

Sugar is sugar is sugar!! It contains calories and carbohydrate. Some types of sugar may be less processed, but they will not give you the same calorie and carb reduction that a low calorie sweetener will.

Low calorie sweeteners are a great way to have your cake and eat it too. The sweeteners listed in the table do not cause blood sugar spikes and can also aid in weight loss and calorie reduction when used as part of a healthy meal plan. There have been many studies conducted on the safety of these ingredients in various science journals, as well as reviews by the FDA.

The information in the table gives a great overview of different types of no calorie sweeteners on the market today. The Acceptable Daily Intake column lists an estimation based on available evidence of how much of a food additive can be consumed safely per day over a lifetime. This is set by the FDA; and as you can see, you can calculate the recommended ADI based on your weight.

The regulatory status of some sweeteners in the table is listed as “GRAS” which stands for Generally Recognized As Safe. It is used for a substance that is intentionally added to food and recognized as having been shown to be safe. This is decided by qualified professionals. You will noticed GRAS is generally used for products like stevia, monk fruit, and also some sugar alcohols.

A direct link to the chart can be found here.

Sweetener Regulatory Status
Examples of Brand Names Containing Sweetener Multiplier of Sweetness Intensity Compared to Table Sugar (Sucrose)
Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) 

milligrams per kilogram body weight per day (mg/kg bw/d)

Number of Tabletop Sweetener Packets Equivalent to ADI*
Acesulfame
Potassium (Ace-K)
Approved as a sweetener and flavor enhancer in foods generally (except in meat and poultry)

21 CFR 172.800

Sweet One®
Sunett®
200 x 15 23
Advantame Approved as a sweetener and flavor enhancer in foods generally (except in meat and poultry)

21 CFR 172.803

20,000 x 32.8 4,920
Aspartame Approved as a sweetener and flavor enhancer in foods generally

21 CFR 172.804 

Nutrasweet®
Equal®
Sugar Twin®
200 x 50 75
Neotame Approved as a sweetener and flavor enhancer in foods generally (except in meat and poultry)

21 CFR 172.829

Newtame®, 7,000-13,000 x 0.3 23
(sweetness intensity at 10,000 x sucrose)
Saccharin Approved as a sweetener only in certain special dietary foods and as an additive used for certain technological purposes

21 CFR 180.37

Sweet and Low® Sweet Twin® Sweet’N Low® Necta Sweet® 200-700 x 15 45
(sweetness intensity at 400 x sucrose)
Siraitia grosvenoriiSwingle (Luo Han Guo) fruit extracts (SGFE) SFGE containing 25%, 45% or 55% Mogroside V is the subject of GRAS notices for specific conditions of use
GRAS Notice Inventory
Nectresse®
Monk Fruit in the Raw®
PureLo®
100-250 x NS*** ND
Certain high purity steviol glycosides purified from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) Bertoni ≥95% pure glycosides

Subject of GRAS notices for specific conditions of use
GRAS Notice Inventory

Truvia®
PureVia®
Enliten®
200-400 x 4** 9
(sweetness intensity at 300 x sucrose)
Sucralose Approved as a sweetener in foods generally

21 CFR 172.831

Splenda® 600  x 5 23

* Number of Tabletop Sweetener Packets a 60 kg (132 pound) person would need to consume to reach the ADI. Calculations assume a packet of high-intensity sweetener is as sweet as two teaspoons of sugar.
**ADI established by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA)
*** NS means not specified. A numerical ADI may not be deemed necessary for several reasons, including evidence of the ingredient’s safety at levels well above the amounts needed to achieve the desired effect (e.g., as a sweetener) in food.

Please Note: Since publication of this chart in May of 2015, Nectresse® is no longer on the market and SPLENDA® Naturals has been added to the Stevia category.

SPLENDA®, Equal® and Sweet’N Low® are the most common low calorie sweeteners you will find available in the market and at restaurants.  Everyone perceives the sweet taste of these sweeteners differently, so it’s a good idea to try what’s available to see what your palette prefers. Some of these sweeteners can also be purchased in blend form, which is a combination of sugar and the low calorie sweetener. These products offer even more options for sweetening, and are especially helpful in cooking and baking when the food science functionality of sugar is needed.

If your goal is to eat a more natural or clean diet, you may want to try a monk fruit or stevia sweetener. More and more beverages are being made with these specific low calorie sweeteners.  One of Dr. Edelman’s favorite treats of all time is coconut flavored Bai sweetened with stevia, just in case he’s on your holiday gift list!

In a nutshell, when it comes to low calorie sweeteners there are a variety of options for people with diabetes, and choosing what works for you ultimately comes down to personal preference.

 

References

  • Barclay, Alan, et al. The Ultimate guide to Sugars & Sweeteners. The Experiment, LLC. 2014
5 Comments
  1. What about Ideal? We have found this to be the best for us. Not found in most stores unfortunately and is relatively expensive. We find all the products mentioned nasty will a distinct flavor.

    • We haven’t heard of Ideal, but if it works well for you that’s great!

  2. Really needed this info. Too confusing… We as Americans have had the opportunity to ingest a lot of sugar. Glad we have these substitutes! And learning to eat less sweets overall. Fruit is my best sweet…fix. Anyhow. Thanks again.

  3. Instead of attempting to sneak in chemical sweeteners and expose oneself to their recognized health risks, it makes more sense to consider healthier options such as natural, plant-based, high fiber sweeteners.

    The author claims “sugar, is sugar, is sugar.” But nothing could be further from the truth. “Sugar is only sugar” when removed from its food source and stripped of its accompanying fiber and nutrients.

    In fact, some foods that are perceived as sweet and sugary are surprisingly low on the glycemic index, when ingested as a whole food. One example of a “sweet” natural food that can be used in a host of recipes are dates. Dates offer many nutritional benefits that sugar simply does not.

    Studies show dates are a low-glycemic index food that do not significantly raise blood sugar levels with persons with diabetes after they are eaten. They are loaded with fiber. One pitted date contains 1.6 g of fiber, or 6 percent of the recommended daily intake. Fiber is known for its ability to help lower cholesterol, prevent obesity, heart disease and colorectal cancer. Dates have also been proven to lower triglycerides by 8 to 15 percent. Reducing your triglyceride levels lowers risk of hardening of the arteries, heart attack and stroke, according to the National Institutes of Health.

    Finally, dates provide vitamins and minerals that are necessary to maintain optimum health. The primary vitamins in dates are the B vitamin family, with vitamin B-6 topping the list. The B vitamins help with the metabolism of food and the formation of new blood cells. Other vitamins include K and A. Dates are an excellent source or minerals, especially potassium. Copper, manganese, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, iron and zinc complete dates mineral profile. Dates are commonly used in baked goods. But they can also be ground into “date sugar” at home, and used to sweeten countless healthy recipes, naturally, without resorting to unhealthy chemical sweeteners.

  4. Great point this is why you never ever use honey in a diabetic recipe this is why you look into using something like Agave which is five times less sweet taste just as good if not better it’s much more diabetic friendly

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