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How Sweet It Is: What You Need to Know About Artificial Sweeteners

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    Tanya Zuckerbrot

As we look to the future, many health professionals are predicting a diabetes epidemic to follow on the coattails of the obesity epidemic our country faces today. 

According to the American Diabetes Association, “one out of every 3 children (and 1 in 2 minority children) born in the United States today will face a future with diabetes if current trends continue.” 

One popular and effective way to cut carbohydrate intake is through the consumption of artificial sweeteners, but what does the research say about them?

The FDA regulates all artificial sweeteners that hit the market. They conduct numerous safety studies and subsequently establish an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for each artificial sweetener. This is the maximum amount considered safe to consume each day over the course of your lifetime and are extremely generous estimations. In other words, even if you consume the ADI or slightly more daily, you will not be harmed. That said, the American Dietetic Association and National Cancer Institute support consumption of aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame K , and sucralose below the ADI as they have not been shown to cause cancer and do not increase risk for behavioral disorders. Use the table below to understand the ADIs set by the FDA for each sweetener.

Read on for more information about current research for the special populations and each sweetener.

Artificial SweetenerADI
(150 lb person)
Okay for cooking?How Sweet?
(compared to sugar)
Aspartame
(NutraSweet, Equal)
18-19 diet sodasNo180x
Saccharin
(Sweet’N Low, SugarTwin)
9-12 packets of sweetenerYes300x
Acesulfame K
(Sunett, Sweet One)
20 diet sodasYes200x
Sucralose
(Splenda)
6 diet sodasYes600x
Reb A
(Truvia, Purevia)
30 packetsYes200x
Neotame15 mg/kg body weightYes8000x

Artificial Sweeteners and Pregnancy

• Safe to consume

• Caution: diet soda and juice intake may replace or reduce milk and water intake
Artificial Sweeteners and Children

• Limiting juices and sweets containing fructose and sugar alcohols may reduce diarrhea

• Not shown to cause dental caries

Aspartame

• Soffritti et al. (2007) found that fetal exposure to aspartame in rats increases its carcinogenic effects. The study demonstrated an increased rate of carcinogenicity in rats fed twice the amount of the current ADI. However, the rates of tumors were similar for rats exposed to just half the ADI compared to rats exposed to no aspartame at all. In other words, moderate intake was shown to be perfectly safe.

• Lim et al. (2006) looked at a self-administered study of over 400,000 men and woman between 50-71 years of age and found that consumption of aspartame-containing beverages did not increase the incidence of blood or brain cancers.

• Gallus et al. (2007) looked at the diet of 8,900 patients with cancer and compared them to a control group. They also did not find a relationship between use of sweeteners and cancer.

Saccharin

• A review by Arnold (1983) found a link between saccharin in pregnancy and bladder cancer. However, the National Cancer Institute has not found this link and the US removed the proposed ban on saccharin.

• Saccharin is excreted unchanged (not absorbed or metabolized) and is therefore considered safe by the FDA.

Sucralose

• The ADI for sucralose is 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg), yet even consumers that are considered “heavy users” consume less than this amount.

• Mann et al. (2000) showed that sucralose is safe for use during pregnancy and throughout life. They found no increase in incidence, type or onset of tumors even with extremely high intakes.
Acesulfame K

• Less research has been done on acesulfame K but, it is safe within the ADI.

• Mukherjee & Chakrabarti (1997) found that doses of acesulfame K within the ADI showed no chromosomal aberrations compared to the control. However, doses of 60, 450, 1,200, and 2,250mg/kg bw were clastogenic and genotoxic.

• Often found with products that contain aspartame.

Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and founder of www.SkinnyintheCity.com. She is also the creator of The F-Factor Diet™, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto www.FFactorDiet.com.