A Buyer's Guide to Sugar Substitutes

The good, the bad and the unacceptable.

According to a recent survey, seven out of 10 adults say they want to reduce or avoid added sugars. To do so, they’re turning to sweeteners that deliver zero or minimal calories. Data from Mintel, a market research group in Chicago, shows that while sales of caloric sweeteners like sugar have been declining in recent years, sales of “diet”-friendly substitutes have skyrocketed, increasing by about 50 percent from 2000 to 2006. And since 66 percent of Americans are overweight and 20.8 million have diabetes, even many health experts are advocating the use of these sugar substitutes.

Saccharin (Sweet’N Low, Sweet Twin)

  • Sold as a “tabletop sweetener” (packets used mostly to sweeten beverages)
  • Commonly added to packaged foods and beverages

What is it? A compound containing sulfur and nitrogen that provides no calories because the body cannot break it down.

Sweetness factor: 300 x sugar

Take note: Saccharin, first discovered in 1879, has a long, controversial history. The FDA re-approved saccharin for limited use as a food additive (in beverages and some processed foods) in 2000.

Our taste test: All but one taster rated it as “unpleasantly sweet.” Most commented that, in tea—hot and cold—saccharin tasted “artificial” and had a bitter aftertaste.

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