Sugar Substitutes

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines emphasize “choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars.” Learn about sugar substitutes to help meet this goal.
Sugar Substitutes - Articles

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Sugar substitute packets

Do Sugar Substitutes Mean a Food is Low in Calories?

Labels of foods that contain sugar substitutes may say "sugar free," "calorie free," or "reduced calories." These statements on the front of the package are the first sign of a low-calorie food and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

  • A sugar-free food has less than ½ gram of sugar per serving.
  • A calorie-free food has fewer than 5 calories per serving.
  • A reduced-calorie food has at least one-quarter fewer calories than the original food.

Not all "sugar-free" or "reduced-calorie" foods are low in calories. The food may contain extra fat, which provides 9 calories per gram. A sugar-free food doesn't always save all that many calories compared to the food it is replacing. Examine the Nutrition Facts labels on all low-calorie foods to know what you're really eating. Use of artificially sweetened foods in moderation can be a part of a healthy diet.

Differences Between Natural and Artificial Sweeteners

Sugar substitutes can be categorized into natural and artificial sweeteners. Natural sweeteners, like stevia and monk fruit, are derived from natural sources (compounds in the stevia plant and extract from monk fruits are used to make these sweeteners sweet). Sugar alcohols occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. They are found in processed foods and generally are not used when preparing food at home. Artificial sweeteners, like saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose, are formed through a chemical process, often in a laboratory.

Tip: Using sugar substitutes may help reduce your intake of sugar and calories

Are They Safe?

According to the American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, and National Cancer Institute, there is no significant evidence that any of the sugar substitutes approved for use in the United States cause cancer or other serious health problems. When the FDA approves the use of or generally recognizes a sweetener as safe, they have carefully researched how it's made, what foods it will be used in, and whether or not it is potentially harmful to a person's health. The table on page 2 is a current list of all sugar substitutes that are generally recognized as safe by the FDA. Use this table to find the acceptable daily intake (ADI), set by the FDA, for each sugar substitute.

ProductTypeSafetyNumber of sugar substitute packets to reach ADI1Number of 12-oz cans of diet soda to reach ADISugar equivalent (a) 2 tsp
(b) 1 cup
Cook or bake
Monk fruit (trade names: Monk Fruit in the Raw, PureLo)NaturalSafe for allNot specifiedNot specifieda) 2 tsp or 1 packet (b) 1 cup or 24 packetsCook
Bake
Stevia (made from steviol glycosides in the stevia plant) (trade names:,PureVia, Stevia in the Raw)NaturalSafe for all150-lb adult: 30
50-lb child: 102
Information not availableVaries by brandCook
Bake
Sucralose (trade name: Splenda)ArtificialSafe for all150-lb adult: 68.2
50-lb child: 22.8
150-lb adult: 4.8
50-lb child:1.6
(a) 2 tsp or 1 packet
(b) 1 cup or 24 packets
Cook
Bake
Saccharin (trade names: Sweet Twin, Sweet'N Low, Necta Sweet)ArtificialNot safe for pregnant women150-lb adult: 8.6
50-lb child: 2.8
150-lb adult: 2.4
50-lb child: 0.8
(a) 1 packet
(b) 24 packets
Cook
Bake
Aspartame (trade names: Nutra-Sweet, Equal, Sugar Twin)ArtificialMay not be safe for people with phenylketonuria; use in moderation during pregnancy150-lb adult: 97.4
50-lb child: 32.4
150-lb adult: 17
50-lb child: 5.6
(a) 2 tsp or 1 packet
(b) 1 cup or 24 packets
Acesulfame-K (trade names: Sweet One, Sunett)ArtificialSafe for all; use in moderation during pregnancy150-lb adult: 20.4
50-lb child: 6.8
150-lb adult: 25.6
50-lb child: 8.6
(a) 1 packet
(b) 12 packets
Cook
Bake
Sugar Alcohols3 (sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol, erythritol, maltitol)ArtificialMay cause bloating, gas, and diarrheaInformation not availableInformation not availableVaries
Neotame (trade name: Newtame)4ArtificialSafe for allInformation not availableInformation not availableCook
Bake
Advantame4ArtificialSafe for allInformation not availableInformation not availableCook
Bake

1 ADI is the acceptable daily intake set by the Food and Drug Administration.
2 Truvía is a blend of stevia leaf extract and erythritol (a sugar alcohol).
3 Set by Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives; only approved as dietary supplement in the United States per FDA.
4 Sugar alcohols, neotame, and advantame are mostly used by food and drink manufacturers to sweeten processed foods, including but not limited to dairy drinks, frozen desserts, beverages, candies, and chewing gum

What Are Sugar Alcohols?

Sugar alcohols are a type of carbohydrate often used by food manufacturers to sweeten processed foods. They occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables, but they can also be manufactured. Unlike the other sugar substitutes, sugar alcohols do provide calories, although significantly less than sugar. Sorbitol, erythritol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol, lactitol, and isomalt are all sugar alcohols. They are used in a wide range of products, including chewing gums, breath mints, candies, ice cream, baked goods, and fruit spreads.

Shopping Tips

Some sugar substitutes are packaged as "blends" or "mixes" to be used in cooking or baking. These contain a mix of the sugar substitute and actual sugar. For example, both Splenda and Truvía sell a Sugar Blend and Brown Sugar Blend. Note that these blends are more caloric than the pure sugar substitute and have more carbohydrates. Also, using a blend versus the pure sugar substitute may change the ratio required to substitute for sugar in baking or cooking. It is suggested that when baking with Stevia, use half sugar and half sugar substitute. Keeping half the sugar is important for moisture, browning, and rising.

Apple Crisp with Stevia

Serving size: ⅛ of dish

Ingredients

Filling:

  • 4 cups apples, sliced
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 Tbsp + 2¼ tsp Stevia sweetener (spoonable) or 6 packets Stevia
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Crisp:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 Tbsp + 2¼ tsp Stevia (spoonable) or 6 packets Stevia
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 1½ Tbsp brown sugar
  • ⅛ tsp salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F. For filling: place apples in a large bowl; sprinkle with water, Stevia, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg; toss to coat the fruit. Spray 9-inch baking dish with nonstick spray; place apple mixture in dish. For crisp: in a separate bowl, combine oats, Stevia, flour, cinnamon, melted butter, brown sugar, and salt; stir to form crumbly mixture. Sprinkle crumb mixture on top of apples.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes until apples are tender.

Nutritional Information

180 kcal, 33 g carbohydrate, 3 g protein, 7 g fat, 30 mg sodium, 15 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber.

Sources

ADA Evidence Analysis Library (2011). "The Truth about Artificial Sweeteners or Sugar Substitutes."

Calorie Control Council (2014). "Sweeteners and Lite."

Cumberland Baking Corp. "Sweet N' Low FAQs." Accessed November 2014.

Gardner, C., et al. (2012). "Nonnutritive Sweeteners: Current Use and Health Perspectives." Diabetes Care 35.

In the Raw. "Conversion Charts." Accessed November 2014.

Mayo Clinic (2014). "Artificial Sweeteners and Other Sugar Substitutes.".

McNeil Nutritionals, LLC. "Splenda Brand Measurement Conversion Chart." Accessed November 2014.

Merisant Company. "Equal FAQs." Accessed November 2014.

Pregnancy.org. "Which Sweeteners Are Considered Safe During Pregnancy?" Accessed November 2014.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2014). "High-Intensity Sweeteners."

Prepared by Lynn James, senior extension educator, and Lindsay Besecker, nutrition intern.
Reviewed by Nancy Routch, nutrition, diet, and health extension educator.

Authors