The following is a basic overview of artificial or non-nutritive sweeteners that are allowed for use in the United States. Not all of these sweeteners are classified as food additives, which means that they do not all have to have proof of safety (to be explained). The word approved should be taken to mean “allowed,” in this regard.
Out of the 7 non-nutritive sweeteners explained below, 5 are approved for use as food additives, for the purpose of sweetening, and two are considered GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe).
Brand Names: Sunette, Sweet One
Sweetness: 200 times sweeter than sugar.
Taste: Bitter or metallic aftertase, somewhat like saccharin.
Uses: Tabletop sweeteners, dry beverage mixes such as protein powders and others, and chewing gum. Acesulfame K is rarely used alone as an additive in foods. It is usually mixed with other sweeteners which achieve a sort of sweetness synergy while minimizing the bitter aftertaste. If used in amounts large enough to achieve the desired sweetness along, the aftertaste may be too disagreeable.
Absorption: Acesulfame K is not digested, and it excreted unchanged in the urine. The Acceptable Daily Intake is set at 15 mg/kg BW.
Notes: The K in acesulfame K stands for potassium.
Brand Names: NurtaSweet, Equal, Spoonful, others
Sweetness: 160 to 220 times sweeter than sugar.
Taste: Similar to sucrose sugar, but a slightly bitter aftertaste (not everyone detects the bitter aftertaste).
Uses: Tabletop sweeteners, dry beverage mixes, chewing gum, beverages such as sodas, candy, fruit spreads, toppings, and fillings.
Absorption: Aspartame is not directly absorbed into the bloodstream. It must be broken down into its constituents, which are phenylalanine and aspartic acid.
Notes: See link above.
Brand Names: Newtame
Sweetness: 1,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar.
Taste: Sugar-like taste, clean with little to no aftertaste. Can be used in very small amounts and may enhance the flavor of some foods.
Uses: Neotame, invented by NutraSweet is still a patented molecule. The patent will expire on July 8, 2015.
Absorption: Neotame, chemically related to aspartame, is rapidly but only partially absorbed. 20 to 30% may be absorbed, but both absorbed and non-absorbed is metabolized to de-esterified neotame and trace methanol, with good efficiency and only a small percentage of unchanged neotame. Both metabolized and unchanged neotame are cleared via the urine and feces within 72 hours. There is no evidence of tissue accumulation.
Notes: Although Neotame contains phenylalanine, it is not metabolized to phenylalanine and is safe for those with PKU/ No warning label is required.
Luo Han Guo Fruit Extracts
Luo Han Gro fruit extracts are extracts from Swingle fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii). It is also known as monk fruit, a plant native to Southern China. This fruit contains varying levels of mogrosides which provide non-nutritive sweetness.
Brand Names: Nectresse, Monk Fruit in the Raw, PureLO
Sweetness: Depends on levels of Mogroside, which may be 25%, 455, or 55%, but can be 100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar.
Absorption: Little reliable info yet.
Brands: Sweet Twin, Sweet’N Low, Sweet And Low, NectaSweet
Sweetness: 300 times sweeter than sugar.
Taste: Metallic aftertaste even at low concentrations, bitter aftertaste at high concentrations.
Uses: Soft drinks, some foods, tabletop sweetener
Absorption: Largely absorbed but not metabolized, saccharin is excreted by the kidneys, the unabsorbed portion excreted via feces.
Notes: Studies done on rats implicated saccharin with the development of bladder cancer. A warning label was placed on saccharin indicating that it may cause cancer. However, in 2000, the warning labels were removed since the phenomenon which caused saccharin to produce bladder cancer in rats (which were given very high doses) do not occur in humans.
Stevia is a non-nutritive natural sweetener, not considered a food additive or an artificial sweetener.
Brand Names: Truvia, Pure Via, Sun Crystals, Enliten
Sweetness: 250 times sweeter than sugar.
Taste: Small amounts produce a fairly clean, sweet taste. High amounts may taste bitter.
Uses: Tabletop sweeteners, cereal, energy bars, beverages. Permitted for use in a large variety of food.
Notes: Stevia is a South American herb with a long history of use as a sweetener. However, whole leaf or crude stevia products are not approved for use because of concerns about their possible health effects. Highly purified stevia products, known as steviol glycoside extracts. This is actually a mixture of compounds extracted from stevia leaf. Although they used to be only available as dietary supplements, they were announced GRAS by the FDA in December 2008.
Absorption: Steviol glycosides are metabolized, via the gut microflora, to steviol, which is well absorbed. Steviol is transported to the liver where it is glucuronidated to steviol glucuronide, resulting in a peak plasma concentration of steviol glucuronide at 8 to 12 hours, which is excreted mostly via the urine in approximately 14 hours.
Notes: Refined stevia products are considered GRAS, through a notice of ‘no questions’ by the FDA. The ADI is set at 4mg/kg BW, which may be a bit conservative.
Brand Names: Splenda
Sweetness: 600 times sweeter than sugar.
Taste: Clean, and maintained at high temperatures, making sucralose good for cooking.
Uses: Soft drinks, baked goods, chewing gum, tabletop sweeteners.
Absorption: Very little sucralose is absorbed by the GI tract. It cannot be absorbed actively at all. Only about 15% of it is passively absorbed. Nursing mothers need not worry as it cannot pass into breast milk. It can not be passed on to a developing fetus transplacentally. It also cannot cross the blood-brain barrier.
Most of the sucralose you ingest is excreted in the feces, or by the urine. What little that is not excreted is changed into a highly water-soluble glucuronide conjugate which is not toxic. All dietary sucralose passes out of the body by about 13 hours. There is no evidence to show that it accumulates. Of the small amount of sucralose that gets absorbed, according to research on volunteers, passes through the body, and is eventually excreted by the kidneys unaltered.
Notes: ADI is set to 5mg/kg BW.