Are Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Substitutes Safe?

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Most people relish sugary treats. However, on frequently consuming foods and beverages with high added sugar, the empty calories may start to build up. This additional sugar impacts weight gain. The risk of developing significant health issues like Diabetes and heart disease may also increase.

Using less processed sweeteners like honey and molasses can help us avoid using table sugar. But there is extra sugar in these as well. They boost the calorie intake in our diet.

Artificial sweeteners, sometimes known as sugar substitutes, are products used instead of refined sugar. Although they contain calories, they taste sweet, like sugar. Some don’t have calories.

Some people use sugar replacements, also known as high-intensity sweeteners, to sweeten and flavour their meals, whether to reduce the number of calories they consume or to become healthy.  

They may be added to sweeten foods and drinks like iced tea or coffee. There are numerous sugar replacements available on the market.

What are sugar substitutes?  

Artificial sweeteners (or sugar substitutes) replace ordinary table sugar (sucrose) that can be used to sweeten food or beverages without adding too many calories or boosting blood sugar levels.  

People with Diabetes need these in particular. The American Heart Association (AHA) has classified these as non-nutritive sweeteners.

They get the name high-intensity sugar replacements as they have a strong sweet flavour in moderate amounts. High-intensity sweeteners have fewer or no calories than traditional sweeteners like sugar, honey, or molasses. Additionally, they typically do not cause blood sugar levels to increase.

Types of sugar substitutes  

Sugar substitutes can be categorised into three groups—artificial sweeteners, functional sweeteners, and enhancing natural sweeteners/sweet taste enhancers.

  • Artificial sweeteners are chemically produced sugar substitutes and are artificial. The five artificial sweeteners with FDA approval are Saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose.
  • Functional sweeteners primarily consist of polyols (sugar alcohols), together with bulking agents and rare sugars. The most popular are polyols. These are carbohydrates that have been reduced. For instance, mannitol is a reduced form of the carbohydrate mannose. Certain fruits and vegetables naturally contain sugar and alcohol. Sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and erythritol are used as sweeteners.  
  • Sugar substitutes are natural sweeteners obtained from plants. Stevia is one such sweetener, the only natural sweetener that has received FDA approval.  

Sugar substitutes approved by FDA  

The substances that food manufacturers add are regulated by governmental health agencies.  

These organisations inspect components like sugar substitutes before foods or beverages containing them are available in the market.

The following sugar substitutes are permitted for use in the US by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

  • Acesulfame potassium.
  • Aspartame
  • Advantame
  • Neotame
  • Sucralose
  • Saccharin
  • Luo han guo.
  • Purified stevia leaf extracts.

The six artificial sweeteners with The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) approval are

  • Saccharin sodium
  • Aspartame
  • Acesulfame potassium
  • Sucralose
  • Neotame
  • Isomaltulose.

According to the FDA, it is generally accepted that the use of sugar alcohols in foods and beverages is safe.  

How to find out if it’s safe?  

The FDA is mandated by law to evaluate food additives, including artificial sweeteners, for safety before they are on the market for sale.

A corporation requests clearance from the government by submitting a petition for a food additive.  

One exemption is made for compounds that are “generally recognised as safe,” or GRAS, as they are excluded from the approval process for food additives and are widely accepted by trained experts as safe under the circumstances of the intended usage.

To ensure that the product is secure for the intended use, the agency’s scientists carefully examine all the scientific data given by the company.

The FDA also provides fixed ‘acceptable daily intake (ADI)’ for every sugar substitute. This limit is safe for consumption. It is usually safe when the sugar substitute has FDA approval.

Sweeteners and health  

Low or no-calorie sweeteners help us cut back on our refined sugar intake, but they need not necessarily make a food or drink healthy.

Tooth decay is more likely when we consume a lot of sweets. So long as the food or drink does not include sugars, no-calorie sweeteners can help lower the risk of tooth decay.

However, regardless of their sugar content, low or no-calorie sweeteners, carbonated drinks are linked to teeth erosion due to their acid content.

People should consume less sugar, but low- or no-calorie sweeteners can be a good substitute for those who wish to cut back on sugar without sacrificing sweetness.

Research on sweeteners and health has yielded conflicting results.

Aspartame consumption is unsafe for people with Phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare hereditary disease. Aspartame includes phenylalanine, which PKU patients are unable to metabolise. People who have PKU should look for this warning on food labels. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has stated that according to limited evidence, aspartame can possibly be carcinogenic to humans.

If taken in large quantities, several polyol sweeteners (such as sorbitol, xylitol, and erythritol) might have a laxative effect. Certain fruits and vegetables are natural sources of polyols.  

The product label must warn consumers that excessive consumption of polyols, which are added to food and beverages in amounts greater than 10%, may have laxative effects.

Benefits of sugar substitutes

  • Sugar substitutes, like artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and natural sweeteners, mostly benefit people with Diabetes, tooth decay and obesity.
  • It is also used to improve the flavour and taste of food.  
  • Weight management – People can manage their weight by substituting sugar with foods that are zero or low in calories in place of high-sugar or high-calorie diets. With the use of sugar substitutes, they can consume and enjoy the same foods and beverages as healthy individuals while avoiding the added calories.
  • Diabetes mellitus – People with Diabetes who have trouble managing their blood sugar levels can maintain stable blood sugar levels by substituting with artificial sweeteners.
  • Dental care – Some sugar substitutes are gentle on the teeth. People with poor oral health due to dental caries or decay due to excessive sugar consumption can choose sugar substitutes. Xylitol, a low-calorie, antibacterial sugar replacement, is one such sweetener.

Disadvantages of sugar substitutes  

  • According to a study, long-term, regular use of artificial sweeteners may increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, and mortality.  
  • Certain studies examine the gut’s role in long-term sugar substitute consumption. Many people concentrate on how the gut and brain communicate.  
  • Stevia and sugar alcohol usage can bring about bloating, gas, and diarrhoea in some individuals. People react differently to the same amount of sugar alcohol, causing different symptoms.

It is best to use sugar substitutes in moderation. It is also advisable to use it only occasionally or for a short period of time.   

Are sugar substitutes safe?  

After thorough assessment and long-term safety testing, the FDA regulates and approves sugar replacements for sale as food additives.

On the basis of scientific facts and evidence, the FDA occasionally approves sugar replacements or artificial sweeteners as “generally recognised as safe” (GRAS).  

The FDA also establishes very low standards for “acceptable daily intake” (ADI) for each sugar alternative.  

All FDA-approved sweeteners are regarded as safe and suitable substitutes for using sugar. The permitted amount of sweetness and the permitted items are governed by law.


Some people may find short-term relief from their sugar cravings and weight management with the help of artificial sweeteners. Sugar substitutes are generally safe for healthy adults.

However, be mindful of how sugar substitutes impact the foods and beverages chosen. These ingredients may get the tastebuds used to sweetness.  

Whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, usually have the best combination of nutrients for the body. Still, artificial sweeteners can help some people enjoy sweetness without excess calories, and when used in moderation, artificial sweeteners can be part of a healthy diet.  

Products made with sugar substitutes may also give us the wrong message about processed foods. A snack labelled low sugar or no sugar may not be the most nutritious choice.

So, using sugar substitutes in moderation or preferring natural foods, such as fruits, is advisable.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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