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.
Regulatory status = FDA-approved additive
ADI for adults (number of packets) = 75 packets
Where you’ll find it
America’s most common artificial sweetener, found in drinks, tabletop sweeteners, yogurt, candy, desserts, gum and medicines.
Some 200 times sweeter than sugar, a little aspartame goes a long way. It’s one of the most widely studied sweeteners, but CSPI advises steering clear—citing data that hint at a slightly increased cancer risk in men, and rat studies linking it to leukemia and lymphoma. (The FDA disagrees.)