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ZERO CALORIE SWEETENERS

On my quest to discover all zero-calorie sweeteners in stores across the United States,

I found 100s of options and list them here in two groups: natural & artificial.

Learn More

WHAT IS A NATURAL SWEETENER?

  • Sugar substitutes labeled as "natural" and "zero-calories" contain sweeteners obtained from a plant. Stevia, monk fruit, thaumatin, erythritol, and allulose are FDA-approved. Based on their sweetness level compared to sugar, they fit into one of two groups: high-intensity or mildly-sweet  

  • High-intensity sweeteners are 100s of times sweeter than table sugar. The natural ones include stevia (the term used to refer to steviol glycosides = refined extracts from the leaves of the stevia plant), monk fruit (the term used to refer to mogrosides = refined extracts from the monk fruit), and thaumatin (approved in 2020, proteins isolated from the fruit of West African Katemfe fruit). Scroll down to see the artificial ones.

 

  • Mildly-sweet carbohydrates labeled as "zero calories" are less sweet than table sugar and include erythritol (a sugar alcohol obtained from corn) and allulose (a rare sugar obtained from corn).

  • Miracle fruit extract (miraculin) is not an FDA-approved ingredient so you are not going to find it as a sugar substitute. It is not an actual sweetener but can enhance the sweetness of acidic foods up to 800 times. You can buy the fruit itself or the extract in tablet form. Read all about it HERE.

  • Find out if a sweetener claimed as "natural" meets your expectations by reading two of my blog posts: 

Natural Sweetener
High Intensity Sweeteners

WHAT IS ARTIFICAL SWEETENER?

  • Artificial sweeteners are not found in nature. Even if produced from a source material found in nature (such as sucralose, which is made from table sugar) OR their component parts are found in nature (such as aspartame, which is split in our body into 3 components widely found in foods), it does not make them a natural sweetener.

  • Six artificial sweeteners are approved as ingredients in sugar substitutes (find them listed below). Saccharin-based products were the first available in stores; the Sweet'N Low brand name has been the most popularAspartame–acesulfame K blends were popular for some time but were surpassed by sucralose, which is the most used of all six.

  • Only a couple of brands use neotame as an ingredient and I have not seen sweeteners containing advantage and thaumatin, the two most recently approved high-intensity sweeteners.

WHAT'S A ZERO-CALORIE SWEETENER?

  • By law, a sweetener may be labeled calorie-free, no-calorie, or zero-calorie if it provides less than 5 cal per serving. One serving is often the amount of product (teaspoon, drops, squeezes) with sweetness equivalent to 1 or 2 teaspoons of table sugar.
     

  • Zero Calorie Sweeteners are available to you in various forms: granulated, powdered, sachets, cubes, tablets, liquid, and syrup. The color code for them tends to be green for stevia, yellow for sucralose, blue for aspartame, and pink for saccharin.

WHAT'S A HIGH-INTENSITY SWEETENER?

  • Because they are used in such small amounts, they have no effect on volume or mouthfeel. As a result, high-intensity sweeteners are often blended with bulk sweeteners which give them an overall resemblance to table sugar, making them spoonable & pourable, and masking their off-flavors.

  • As opposed to table sugar, they are used mainly for sweetening purposes and no other culinary role. Pure high-intensity sweeteners (without any additives or fillers) work best in foods that do not require sugars for texture, shelf life, moisture retention, color, and aroma.

  • Two sweeteners—erythritol and allulose—can be labeled as zero calories and sugar-free, but are not high-intensity sweeteners. In fact, both are less sweet than table sugar. In addition, they are NOT completely free of calories as high-intensity sweeteners. They provide about 1 to 1.5 calories per teaspoon or 40 to 70 calories per cup. Learn more about erythritol HERE and about allulose HERE.

Which high-intensity sweeteners are FDA-approved?

  • Among all, aspartame and thaumatin are the only two approved as nutritive sweeteners because they provide 4 cal per gram [chemically speaking, both are proteins]. However, being super sweet, they're used in such small amounts that make them effectively non-nutritive. Aspartame is 100 to 400 times sweeter than sugar, and thaumatin is 2000 to 5000. Stevia, monk fruit, sucralose, saccharin, acesulfame K, and neotame are non-nutritive sweeteners (0 cal/gram).

  • As I write this, stevia (leaf extract) carries the medal of the most popular high-intensity sweetener, with almost 200 products sold in stores. You can see the complete list here. They contain a variety of stevia leaf extracts such as reb A, reb D, reb M, or stevioside. 

 

Are sweeteners safe?

By law, the FDA–approved sweeteners must be safe for consumption. You can read how the FDA assesses their safety HERE.

Even though aspartame is one of the most studied food additive in the human food supply, it's the most controversial sweetener. It's approved in more than 90 countries. Americans have been sweetening with it for almost 50 years.

The latest controversy happened in July 2023, when the
World Health Organization (WHO) released a risk assessment of aspartame and cancer, saying aspartame is a "possible carcinogen," meaning aspartame is a Group 2B carcinogen and there's “limited evidence” for cancer in humans, specifically liver cancer.  

However, the FDA's position is not in line with the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of WHO] according to their statement below:

"The FDA disagrees with IARC’s conclusion that the studies support classifying aspartame as a possible carcinogen to humans. FDA scientists reviewed the scientific information included in IARC’s review in 2021 when it was first made available and identified significant shortcomings in the studies on which IARC relied."

The FDA emphasizes that the WHO did not raise safety concerns for aspartame under the current levels of use and did not change the prior 
Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of aspartame of 40 mg/kg of body. WHO affirmed that an intake within this range is safe.


An ADI is the amount of a substance considered safe to consume EACH DAY over the course of A PERSON'S LIFETIME. To understand what this limit means for aspartame, a 150-pound (68 kg) person would need to consume a total of 75 packets per day of Equal, EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THEIR LIFE. 

 

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