A Buyer's Guide to Sugar Substitutes

The good, the bad and the unacceptable.

Here’s a rundown of some FDA-cleared sweeteners—which have also earned the go-ahead from major health organizations, like the American Heart Association. To get FDA approval, manufacturers must submit dozens of tests to prove safety, and establish maximum intake levels (called Acceptable Daily Intake, or ADI). However, some groups, like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), quibble with the quality of these studies, which are usually conducted by the manufacturers themselves, or companies they hire. A handful of sweeteners, such as stevia leaf extract, are classified by the FDA as GRAS—Generally Recognized as Safe. Even though “natural” sugar substitutes like these are often perceived as healthier options, GRAS sugar substitutes usually don’t have as much safety data as approved additives. And with the science changing all the time, it’s worth using any of them sparingly. See the guide below for information about each sweetener.

Acesulfame Potassium

• Sweet One
• Sunett

Regulatory status = FDA-approved additive

ADI for adults (number of packets) = 23 packets

Where you’ll find it
Drinks, desserts, yogurt, candy, chewing gum, tabletop sweeteners. Often blended with other sugar substitutes to overcome its sometimes bitter aftertaste.

The scoop
Detractors of “Ace-K” say a few of the original animal studies submitted for FDA approval that ruled out cancer risk should be redone because of flaws. Proponents cite 30-plus years of use in the U.S. and Europe, with no reports of serious health effects.

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