Artificial sweeteners are used in place of caloric sweeteners to help reduce the sugar and calorie content of foods, drinks, and other products (such as chewing gum, mouthwash, etc.).
Six artificial sweeteners are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and they include:
- Acesulfame potassium
We’ll review all of these artificial sweeteners and answer some questions you likely have on the topic, so read on!
What are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are man-made (in contrast to natural sweeteners which occur naturally, such as honey) and are typically considered non-nutritive (they don’t provide any calories). Artificial sweeteners are used to reduce the sugar content of foods and drinks, and they usually contain zero calories and don’t have an impact on blood sugar levels.
The safety of artificial sweeteners is a highly debated topic that we won’t delve into for this article. What we can say is that several artificial sweeteners are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
For something to be FDA-approved means that the studies on it have shown that it’s unlikely to be harmful and is safe for consumption (the pros outweigh any potential risks).
Which artificial sweeteners are approved by the FDA?
There are six artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA, which we’ll review below. These are approved to be used as food additives and are considered safe to consume using their ADI (acceptable daily intake) level (non-approved artificial sweeteners don’t have ADI levels).
These artificial sweeteners don’t provide calories, sugar, or any nutritional value, so we won’t be comparing their nutritional content since they are all the same!
Acesulfame potassium (acesulfame-K, or Ace-K)
Acesulfame potassium is an artificial sweetener used to provide sweetness without sugar or calories in things like beverages, desserts, and even personal care products like mouthwash and toothpaste.
Ace-K (the shortened name for acesulfame potassium) is one of the ingredients in Equal, an artificial sweetener consisting of aspartame and acesulfame potassium.
Advantame is around 20,000 times sweeter than sugar and can be used to sweeten most foods except meat and poultry. Like other artificial sweeteners, advantame can be used to sweeten drinks, chewing gum, and other foods that are usually high in sugar.
Aspartame (brand name Nutrasweet – also present in Equal) is one of the more popular artificial sweeteners on the market. It contains phenylalanine, an amino acid. If you have a metabolic condition called phenylketonuria (PKU) your body can’t break down phenylalanine, so you should avoid aspartame and the things it’s in.
Aspartame isn’t heat-resistant, so it’s not meant to be used in cooking or other high-heat applications.
Neotame is considered a “high-intensity sweetener” because it’s much sweeter than sugar (6,000 times sweeter!), as are most artificial sweeteners. Because of its intense sweetness, smaller amounts of neotame and other high-intensity sweeteners can be used in comparison to sugar to achieve the same level of sweetness.
The brand name for saccharin is Sweet n’ Low, one of the more recognizable artificial sweeteners. While not as intense in sweetness as some artificial sweeteners (it’s around 600 times sweeter than table sugar), saccharin is popular for use in sugar-free drinks, candies, jams, etc.
Splenda (the brand name for sucralose) is the only artificial sweetener that is made from real sugar! It’s chemically altered to make it free of sugar and calories and is likely the most popular artificial sweetener on this list!
Sucralose is used in reduced-calorie and sugar-free baked goods, sugar-free drinks, and other low-sugar or sugar-free products.
What about other non-nutritive sweeteners?
Other zero- or low-calorie sweeteners that are natural like stevia, monk fruit extract, and many others are FDA-approved but they aren’t considered artificial, so they’re not on this list!
Sugar alcohols are considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the FDA. Some people consider sugar alcohols artificial sweeteners, but they aren’t considered artificial by the FDA (they’re in another class of sweeteners).
In case you’re wondering, we did some research in terms of the difference between “GRAS” vs. being “FDA-approved”, and they appear to be the same thing. Both FDA-approved and GRAS substances can be used in products meant for human consumption.
All six artificial sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, neotame, and advantame) are considered safe to use and are approved by the FDA. The safety data on these sweeteners suggest that they are safe to use when consumed in the amounts established by the FDA.
Stevia (steviol glycosides) is “generally recognized as safe” per the Food and Drug Administration, meaning it’s considered safe to use in humans based on safety studies.