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.
SUGAR ALCOHOLS: Erythritol
Regulatory status = FDA GRAS status
ADI for adults (number of packets) = Not specified
Where you’ll find it
Sugar-free candies, cookies and chewing gums, packaged sweeteners. Often blended with other sugar substitutes.
Sugar alcohols are calorie-free carbohydrates that are chemically identical to those found naturally in some fruits. Erythritol measures similarly to sugar and has a real-sugar texture. And it’s the least likely of all the sugar alcohols to cause stomach upset. Xylitol can have—ahem—laxative effects at higher doses, like most sugar alcohols.