I'm often asked why zero-calorie sweeteners have

maltodextrin, erythritol, or even sugars as ingredients.

Here's why.

Since high-intensity sweeteners (HIS) provide a super sweet taste with a tiny volume, sugar substitutes in stores often have bulking agents (carriers or fillers) so they can have an overall resemblance to table sugar. Consider stevia leaf extract for example. Just 1/64 of a teaspoon equals one teaspoon of table sugar. The basic idea is that something is needed to fill in the empty space created in the spoon when using HIS, replacing the bulking effect that is lost when sugar is removed.


Bulking agents (BA) are carbohydrates. They may or may not be sweet. They add bulk (weight and volume) to sugar substitutes and minimal calories and carbohydrates to each serving. "No-calorie sweeteners" meet FDA standards for no-calorie foods if they provide <5 calories per serving.

The role of bulking agents in sugar substitutes involves the following:

  • make them spoonable and pourable

  • improve their mouthfeel (body and smoothness)

  • improve the taste by masking off-flavors

  • provide sweetness synergy (boost sweetness).

Note that most sweeteners in stores have just a hint of HIS. We're essentially eating bulking agents with a tiny pinch of HIS. The weight ratio between BA and HIS is, in some cases, 200 to 2000 (BA) to about 1 (HIS). This means that although almost 99% of the weight comes from the BS, 70 to 99% of the sweetness comes from the HIS.


The following bulking agents are often used in sugar alternatives in stores across the United States:

  • sugars (glucose, lactose)

  • polyols (erythritol, xylitol, glycerin)

  • rare sugars (allulose, tagatose)

  • soluble fibers (inulin, fructooligosaccharides)

  • polysaccharides (maltodextrin)

Bulking Agents
Baking? Pick Bulk Sweeteners

When baking, always choose BULK SWEETENERS, which are products with bulking agents. They offer body, mass, and volume to your recipes.​ In fact, a rule of thumb for baking is never to replace a bulk sweetener with another that is bulk-free. For example, you don't want to substitute 1 cup of table sugar with 1 1⁄2 teaspoon of stevia liquid or 1⁄2 teaspoon of monk fruit extract.

BULK-FREE SWEETENERS are concentrated sugar alternatives mainly used for sweetening purposes and no other culinary role. They provide no volume and mass to recipes. They don't brown or caramelize and work best in foods that don't require sugars for texture, shelf life, moisture retention, color, and aroma.


It's okay to use bulk-free sweeteners in baking recipes only to supplement the sweetness level of a bulking sweetener—one that offers body, mass, and volume.​

Other Ingredients in Sugar Alternatives

Besides bulking agents, other ingredients may be added to sugar substitutes, such as the following:

  • Natural flavor is the secret ingredient in most products. It has a broad definition so read the law here. It improves the taste and masks off-flavors of sweeteners. Check out these examples with "natural flavors from the peel of the orange" here, here, here, and here. Cream of tartar is not a natural flavor but it's often used to help reduce the aftertaste of sweeteners. 

  • Preservatives (sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, grapefruit extract) maintain freshness, especially in liquid sweeteners.

  • Anti-caking agents (calcium silicate aka silica) absorb water, preventing the formation of lumps, making powdered/granulated products flow easily out of their packages.

  • Binders (most common is cellulose) are used in products available in tablet form. They act like the glue that makes ingredients stick together.

Bulking Agents Are Not Calorie Free

The main ingredients making up most zero-calorie products you buy in stores include BULKING AGENT (S) + HIGH-INTENSITY SWEETENER (S). Bulking agents add minimal calories & carbohydrates only if you are measuring amounts close to one serving of the product, but not when measuring in cups. 


A serving size, which you find on the Nutrition Facts Label, is usually the amount of sweetener (powder, granules, or crystals) with sweetness equivalent to one or two teaspoons (tsp) of table sugar. To find how a serving size compares to table sugar, you need to look for a conversion chart on the product's label.


Refer to the examples below to understand the difference between calories in a serving versus calories in a cup of zero-calorie products. I want you to keep in mind that one cup of these products does offer significantly fewer calories than table sugar (one cup of sugar provides about 750 calories), but it is not zero calories

Cup for Cup Sugar Substitute

Splenda Granulated has only two ingredients: a filler (maltodextrin) and a HIS (sucralose). By law, it may be labeled as "no-calorie sweetener" because one serving (1 tsp) provides less than 5 cal. Splenda Granulated is made up predominantly of maltodextrin (4 cal per gram). Since one serving has 0.5g of maltodextrin, it provides has 1.98 cal and is rounded to zero in the Nutrition Facts label. However, a cup (48 tsp) of Splenda provides 95 calories.

The image below shows another example. Swerve Granular is made up predominantly of erythritol (0.4 cal per gram). One tsp of Swerve Granular contains 4 grams of erythritol, providing 1.6 cal which, by law, may be rounded to zero and labeled as 'zero calories'. Keep in mind that a cup (48 tsp or 190 grams) of Swerve Granular has approximately 70 calories.  

Swerve 1 to 1 Sugar Replacement

Sweeteners are availbale to you in a wide range of ingredient composition. For stevia alone, I have found the following: 

Understand Stevia

I list below combinations of ingredients in zero calorie products containing artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, saccharin), natural sweeteners (stevia and monk fruit), and blends that measure like sugar on a 1 to 1 ratio.

To simplify, I do not list the non-sweet ingredients that might be present for the following reasons: (1) to improve taste and maintain freshness, such as naturals flavors and preservatives (sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate), (2) to reduce the level of HIS aftertaste (cream of tartar), (3) anti-caking agents (calcium silicate) and, (4) binders (cellulose). 

List of Zero Calorie Sweeteners


(Fillers or bulking agents shown in parenthesis as +)


  • Stevia (pure stevia leaf extract, dried stevia leaf)

  1. Stevia leaf extract powder (no fillers)

  2. Stevia leaf dried and finely diced (no fillers)


  1. Stevia (flavor and/or preservatives)

  2. Stevia (+ erythritol)

  3. Stevia (+ glycerin)

  4. Stevia (+ maltodextrin)


  1. Stevia (+ erythritol)

  2. Stevia (+ xylitol)

  3. Stevia (+ glycerin)


  1. Stevia (+ inulin and/or FOS)

  2. Stevia (+ IMO)​​​


  1. Stevia (+ tagatose)

  2. Stevia (+ allulose)​​

  1. Stevia (+ glucose)

  2. Stevia (+ cellulose)​​

  3. Stevia (+ maltodextrin)


  1. Monk Fruit + Stevia (no fillers)

  2. Monk Fruit + Stevia liquid (preservatives and/or flavor)

  3. Monk Fruit + Stevia (+ erythritol)

  4. Monk Fruit + Stevia (+ eryhtritol + inulin)

  5. Monk Fruit + Stevia (+ allulose)

  6. Monk Fruit + Stevia (+ IMO + tagatose)


  1. Monk Fruit powder (no fillers)

  2. Monk Fruit liquid (preservatives and/or flavor)

  3. Monk Fruit (+ erythritol)

  4. Monk Fruit (+ glucose)

  5. Monk Fruit (+ glycerin)

  6. Monk Fruit (+ maltodextrin)


  1. Sucralose powder (no fillers)

  2. Sucralose liquid (preservatives)

  3. Sucralose (+ glucose + maltodextrin)

  4. Sucralose (+ erythritol)

  5. Sucralose (+ xylitol + dextrose + maltodextrin)

  6. Sucralose (+ tagatose + lactose or isomalt)


  1. Aspartame powder (no fillers)

  2. Aspartame (+ glucose)

  3. Aspartame  with or without Acesulfame K (+ glucose + maltodextrin)

  4. Aspartame + Acesulfame K (+ lactose + cellulose)


  1. ​​​​​Saccharin Liquid (preservatives)

  2. Saccharin (+ glucose and/or maltodextrin)

  1. Maltodextrin blend (+ stevia or monk fruit or aspartame/acesulfame K or sucralose)

  2. Erythritol blend (+ stevia or monk fruit or rare sugars or oligosaccharides)

Stevia (stevia leaf extract sweetener) has the most brand names and is available in twenty different formulations.

Erythritol is the most used bulking agent in sweeteners; check them out here