Baltimore Sun

All about sweeteners

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center will provide a guest post on healthy eating. Have questions or ideas for future topics? Email This week, Amanda Tauber weighs in on avoiding sweeteners. 

Non nutritive sweeteners (sweeteners that do not provide any nutrition) are consumed on a regular basis in the United States. In fact, the American Dietetic Association reports that "up to 9 in 10 consumers in the United States buy or use low-calorie products, including sugar-free and reduced-fat foods and beverages." Open up your cabinet and refrigerator and take a look for your own food purchases. Chances are, something in your house contains non nutritive sweeteners used to reduce the calories in that food product.


Whether it's to help manage your blood sugars, reduce your risk for cavities, or just to cut down on calories, non nutritive sweeteners can be an easy way to reduce your sugar consumption. Below is some more information on sweeteners available in the U.S.

Neotame was approved by the FDA as safe for human use in 2002 and is 7,000-13,000 times sweeter than white sugar. It can be used in baking since it's not greatly impacted by heat and has a taste described as a "clean, sweet taste without bitter, metallic, or off flavors." Neotame is being tested for its taste in beverages, gum, candy, frozen deserts, beverages, and for basic use as a tabletop sweetener.


Aspartame aka Nutrasweet or Equal is 160-220 times sweeter than sugar with the U.S. leading the world in consumption of this sweetener. Most aspartame is seen in diet drinks, but some is also found in pharmaceuticals and personal care products. Aspartame is not a good sweetener to bake with because it isn't capable of withstanding high temperatures and loses some of its sweet taste. Aspartame also contains the amino acid phenylalanine and should thus be avoided by people with an inborn error of metabolism called PKU, or phenylketonuria. That's why both Nutrasweet and Equal are labeled with "Phenylketonurics: Contains phenylalanine."

Stevia is the sweetening agent in Truvia, one of the newest sweeteners on the market that is being found in many food products as well as a great way to sweeten your coffee or fruit. Truvia comes from the Stevia plant which is subtropical plant found in Paraguay and Brazil. Stevia is said to be 250-300 times sweeter than sugar.

Saccharin is most commonly known as Sweet and Low. It can be found in drinks and foods, used as a sugar substitute, and also used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. At one point, the FDA had labeled it a hazardous chemical because it was believed that it was capable of causing cancer. This decision was overturned at the beginning of the decade after further studies were released. More recently, the EPA removed the sweetener from its list of hazardous substances.

Acesulfame-K (Sunett, Sweet One) has been on the market for a number of years and has found success sweetening nearly everything. Since it's so sweet, very little needs to be added to foods to produce a sweet taste. It is not affected by heat and can therefore be used in baking.

Sucralose is one of the most popular sweeteners on the market and goes by the name of Splenda. But why is this sweetener so popular? It has a chemical structure very similar to that of sugar, therefore has more of real sugar's characteristics, but happens to be 600 times sweeter. Like Stevia, Splenda can be used in nearly everything and is a great substitute for regular sugar.

Overall, non nutritive sweeteners can be a great addition to an all-around healthful lifestyle. Like any food, enjoy sweeteners in moderation and balanced with other healthful food choices.

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