There are two kinds of sweeteners:
All nutritive sweeteners, except sugars found in alcohol, provide 4 calories per gram, which is 16 calories per teaspoon. Compared with fat, which has 9 calories per gram, sugars, like other carbohydrates, are lower in calories. When people eat too many sugary foods, though, they may still gain weight. The average American eats 20 teaspoons of sugar per day. People often are not aware they are eating so much sugar. Government guidelines recommend eating much smaller amounts of sugar and sugary foods. Fatty foods and sweets appear at the top and smallest part of the Food Guide Pyramid.
Nutritive sweeteners include:
The FDA has approved four non-nutritive sweeteners. They are:
Saccharin, which was first made in 1879. It comes from a substance that occurs naturally in grapes, and is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Saccharin is the sweetener used in Sweet 'N Low and Sugar Twin. It is also combined with aspartame in fountain sodas. The FDA proposed a ban on saccharin in 1977, when it was found that it could cause cancer in research animals. But it was later proved that this only occurred when saccharin was taken in much larger amounts than humans usually use. The FDA withdrew the ban in 1991, but products made with saccharin must have warning labels. The label reads: "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals."
Aspartame is made from amino acids, the building blocks of protein. It is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is the most popular sugar substitute. It is used in more than 150 different types of products. Aspartame is available as a packaged sweetener called Equal or is added to foods under the name NutraSweet. The FDA approved aspartame in 1981. Since that time, there have been many claims that aspartame use is linked with cancer and other diseases. In fact, this is one of the most studied sweeteners of all times. The FDA has conducted 26 different studies! But the FDA stands by its approval of this substance as "safe for human consumption."
All foods or drinks that contain aspartame must have a warning that states that the product contains phenylalanine. This is for people that have a rare genetic order called phenylketonuria, also known as PKU. All babies are tested for this shortly after birth. People with PKU cannot break down phenylalanine in the body, which can be toxic. So people who have PKU must be careful about eating foods that contain aspartame.
Acesulfame-K (Ace-K) is also 200 times sweeter than sugar. The "K" stands for potassium. This sweetener does not break down when heated, so it can be used in cooking and baking. It does not provide bulk like sugar does, so it may not work in some recipes. The brand name of the tabletop sweetener is Sweet One or Sunette. The FDA approved Ace-K in 1988.
Sucralose is the newest non-nutritive sweetener. Sucralose is made from table sugar, but it cannot be digested, so it adds no calories. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar. It is approved for use in desserts, candies, and non-alcoholic drinks. It does not break down when heated, so it can be used in cooking and baking. It is marketed under the trade name Splenda. The FDA approved Sucralose in 1998.
More sugar substitutes are being developed and reviewed. Sugar substitutes must go through safety testing before they are put on the market. The FDA approves and constantly re-evaluates them. It can take up to as many as 10 years for a sweetener to go through intensive reviews.
Non-nutritive or artificial sweeteners can be part of a healthy diet. They allow people to enjoy the sweet taste of foods without the extra calories. They can help with weight control, when used in combination with a regular exercise program and healthy eating. They also allow people who have diabetes to satisfy sweet cravings without affecting blood glucose levels like sugar would. Sugar can also be a part of a healthy diet if used in moderation. People should check food labels and ingredient lists to look for sweeteners in foods.