Five artificial sweeteners – acesulfame K, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, sucralose – are approved for use in the U.S. All are chemically manufactured molecules – molecules that do not exist in nature.
Artificial sweeteners are used in one of two ways. They may be used directly in commercially processed foods, or they are mixed with one or more starch-based sweeteners before sale to consumers. Artificial sweeteners are so intensely sweet that dextrose or maltodextrin, or both, must be added to dilute their intense sweetness in order to imitate the sweetness of a sugar. Artificial sweeteners can not be sold directly to consumers since only infinitesimally small amounts are required to mimic sugar’s sweet taste.
The dextrose or maltodextrin carriers add calories to the brands of artificial sweeteners sold to consumers. Food and Drug Administration regulations permit any food product that has 5 or fewer calories per serving to be labeled as containing “0” calories. Additionally, diabetics must count these starch-based sweeteners as part of their carbohydrate limits since insulin is required for their metabolism.
So, not only do the artificial sweeteners packaged for sale to consumers have calories, these products do not have the same clean sweet taste of pure, natural sugar.
What is acesulfame K?
Acesulfame K, also known as acesulfame potassium or ace K, is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar. Acesulfame K has no calories because it’s not metabolized by the body. Acesulfame K is sold under the brand names of Sunett, Sweet One, and Sweet & Safe.
In addition to tabletop products, ace K can be found in thousands of a wide variety of oral hygiene and pharmaceutical products, as well as foods and beverages. Ace K is approved as a general-purpose sweetener in the U.S., and is used in such diverse products as dry beverage and dessert mixes, hard and soft candies, chocolate confections, chewing gum, baked goods, dairy products, carbonated drinks and alcoholic beverages. Acesulfame K has the advantage that it is stable at temperatures below 400°F.
Acesulfame K is commonly blended with other nutritive and artificial sweeteners. It will be listed in the ingredient statement of a packaged food or beverage as “acesulfame potassium.”
What is aspartame?
Aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar. Aspartame is marketed under the NutraSweet, Equal and Sugar Twin brands.
Aspartame is completely broken down by the body into its two component amino acids – aspartic acid and phenylalanine – and a small amount of methanol (wood alcohol). Although aspartame therefore has four calories per gram, its intense sweetness means so little of aspartame is used that essentially no calories are provided.
Like ace K, aspartame is approved as a general-purpose sweetener in the U.S., and is used in the same type of foods and beverages. However, since aspartame is not stable at cooking and baking temperatures, its use is limited in baked goods and some dry dessert mixes.
Products containing aspartame must carry a label advising those with phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disorder, that phenylalanine is present. It is listed in the ingredient statement on a food or beverage package as “aspartame.” The ingredient listing for a tabletop product like Equal reads “dextrose with maltodextrin, aspartame.”
What is neotame?
Neotame is the newest of the artificial sweeteners approved for general use in the U.S. Like aspartame, it is composed of aspartic acid and phenylalanine. However, neotame is structurally different which makes it about 40 times sweeter than aspartame, or approximately 8,000 times sweeter than sugar.
While structurally different, neotame is still metabolized like aspartame. It is completely broken down into aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Because only trace amounts of neotame are required to mimic the sweetness of sugar, it contributes no calories.
Use as a tabletop product and packaged food ingredient is anticipated. Neotame can be used in the same foods and beverages as both aspartame and acesulfame K.
What is saccharin?
Saccharin was discovered more than 100 years ago, which makes it the oldest of the artificial sweeteners. Its sweetness depends on how it is used, and ranges from 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar.
In the U.S., saccharin is approved as a special dietary sweetener which limits its use to beverages and tabletop products. Also, approval for its use stipulates that specific maximum amounts are not to be exceeded.
Saccharin is available commercially as “sodium saccharin” (most common), “calcium saccharin” or “acid saccharin.” Saccharin is sold under such brands as Sweet ‘N Low, Sweet Twin and Necta Sweet. A one-gram packet of a popular tabletop brand has an ingredient statement that reads “dextrose, 3.6% sodium saccharin (36 mg per packet), calcium silicate (an anti-caking agent).”
What is sucralose?
Sucralose is made from sucrose by a multi-step patented manufacturing process that selectively replaces three hydroxyl (molecularly bonded hydrogen and oxygen atoms) with chlorine atoms. This molecular change makes sucralose 600 times sweeter than sugar.
In 1999, sucralose was approved as a general-purpose sweetener in the U.S. Sucralose is sold under the brand name Splenda. The ingredients of the tabletop product are listed as “dextrose, maltodextrin and sucralose” on the packet.
Food manufacturers value sucralose because it is the most heat stable of the artificial sweeteners. This property has increased the introduction of sucralose into a broad range of foods and beverages previously sweetened with the other approved general-purpose artificial sweeteners.