Artificial sweeteners are used in many products we eat and drink today. While 70 million Americans consumed artificially sweetened products in 1987, more than 160 million do today. Artificial sweeteners lurk in your diet soda, sugar-free ice cream and cookies and countless other foods. While their development has been helpful for dieters and diabetics, you may have wondered about the safety of these substances.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) tests artificial sweeteners and determines safe amounts or ADI (acceptable daily intake) for each. Here's a look at 4 of the most common artificial sweeteners.
Aspartame, sold under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal, is one of the most popular artificial sweeteners. It is made by combining 2 amino acids with methanol, and produces a substance 180 to 200 times sweeter than sugar.
Aspartame is found in many diet soft drinks. It breaks down when heated, so it's not recommended for use in cooking or baking. Some claims have been made of dizziness, headaches and other nervous system problems after consuming aspartame. However, studies have not determined a link.
The FDA has recommended aspartame's safe level (ADI) as 50 milligrams per kilogram of weight, or the equivalent of 18 to 19 cans of diet soda.
Saccharin, also known as Sweet 'n Low or Sugar Twin, has been around longer than the other artificial sweeteners, since 1878. It's an organic molecule made from petroleum and is 300 times sweeter than sugar.
In the 1970s, saccharin fell from favor when studies linked its use to the development of bladder tumors in male rats. However, later studies showed that the tumors' formation was dependent on the way rats metabolized saccharin, which differs from the way humans do. Warning labels on saccharin products were removed in 2000.
The FDA lists the ADI for saccharin at 5 milligrams per kilogram, or the equivalent of 9 to 12 packets of the sweetener.
Sucralose, or Splenda, combines artificial sweetener with maltodextrin for bulk, so that it can be used as a cup-for-cup sugar substitute. This has made Splenda a popular artificial sweetener for use in baking.
Splenda has been the subject of fewer health controversies than other artificial sweeteners, with more than 100 studies showing no significant side effects related to its use.
Its ADI is 5 milligrams per kilogram, or the equivalent of 6 cans of diet pop.
4. Acesulfame K
Acesulfame K (the K comes from the symbol for potassium) is sold under the names Sunett or Sweet One. It doesn't affect blood sugar levels and can be used for baking, as well as for sweetening drinks. Use caution, as acesulfame K has a bitter taste when used on its own; it's better combined with other sweeteners.
The FDA's ADI for acesulfame K is 15 milligrams per kilogram, which works out to 6 cans of diet soda.
The key with all artificial sweeteners appears to be moderation. Making a batch of cookies with an artificial sweetener a few times a month or drinking a can of diet soda once a day will allow you a sweet treat, while likely causing no negative effects.