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) = 23 packets
Where you’ll find it
Not yet in wide commercial use. (Its extreme sweetness tends to linger, making it a challenge for food manufacturers.)
Neotame is a derivative of two amino acids that has 7,000 to 13,000 times the sweetening power of sugar. CSPI considers it a safe choice, since the amounts used will likely be microscopic.