8 Zero-Calorie Sweeteners and Their Risks

Zero Calories

People today consume too much sugar for their own good. Excessive consumption has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and other health problems. A single can of cola has 10 teaspoons of sugar, yogurt has 3 teaspoons of added sugar, and so do most cereals. Two teaspoons time 3 cups of coffee, and the numbers add up. The average American consumes 141 lbs of sugar and other sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup per year!

Every once in a while, science comes to the rescue with the introduction of a new zero-calorie sweetener intended to replace sugar and its needless calories. Many are artificial sweeteners, synthesized in labs. Unfortunately, some of these sweeteners pose even greater health risks than sugar-induced weight gain. Cancer anyone? Some of the newer 0-calorie sweeteners have not been sufficiently tested to assess their long term impact on human health.

Many of the studies that concluded artificial sweeteners are safe were funded, if not conducted, by the companies who introduced them into market. Research has shown that studies funded by industry tend to reach the conclusion … desired by industry.

Another problem with zero-calorie sweeteners is that instead of trying to reduce our collective sweet tooth, we rely on artificial sweeteners as crutches. They increase our palate’s preference for highly sweet food and drink and ultimately we consume more sweetened foods.

The best piece of advice we can offer you is to learn to reduce your need for sweet.

Here is a list of non-caloric sweeteners from worst to best least worst:

1. Cyclamate

  • Also known as Sucaryl
  • 30-50 times sweeter than table sugar
  • Discovered by accident in 1937 by a graduate student at the University of Illinois
  • Approved for use in 1958
  •  A 1969 study showed that cyclamate could lead to bladder cancer in rats.
  • Banned by the FDA in 1969 after evidence of liver damage, bladder cancer, birth defects, and shrinkage of testes (ouch)
  • Surprisingly, cyclamate is still being used in other countries.

2. Saccharin

  • Also known as Sweet N Low, E954
  • 300-500 times sweeter than table sugar
  • The oldest artificial sweetener, it was created in 1878!
  • Tests in the 1970′s showed a link to bladder cancer in rodents
  • The USDA & FDA proposed banning saccharin in 1972, then again in 1977, but agreed to warning labels instead
  • In 2000, warning labels were deemed no longer necessary after better understanding of the differences between human and rat metabolisms led to the conclusion that saccharin would not harm humans.

3. Acesulfame-Potassium

  • Also known as: Acesulfame-K, Ace-K, E950, Sunett, Sweet-One
  • 200 times sweeter than table sugar and has a bitter after taste
  • Approved by the FDA in 1998
  • Discovered accidentally in the late Sixties
  • It is usually used in conjunction with aspartame or sucralose
  • Safety tests were conducted in the 1970′s and 1980′s, were poorly designed and left questions that even the FDA addressed in working level communications
  • 2 Rat studies showed Ace-k may cause cancer.

4. Aspartame

  • Also known as Nutrasweet, Equal, E951
  • 200 times sweeter than sugar
  • Discovered by accident in 1965 by scientists working for a company that would later be acquired by Monsanto
  • In 1974 the FDA did not approve aspartame, because industry sponsored safety studies were not conducted in a satisfactory manner
  • The FDA finally approved aspartame in 1981 after additional testing (industry sponsored)
  • Today the FDA stance is that aspartame is “one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives the agency has ever approved”. Unfortunately these are industry funded studies
  • 3 independent rodent studies in 2005, 2007, and 2010 found that aspartame does cause lymphomas, leukemias, and other tumors. Exposure during gestation and in early life was especially dangerous. The FDA refutes the findings of these studies.

5. Neotame

  • Also known as E961
  • Up to 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar!
  • Approved by the FDA in 2002
  • Manufactured by the same company that makes aspartame (NutraSweet)
  • Unlike aspartame, chemically stable and can be used in baked goods
  • Rarely used because the taste profile is problematic
  • Safety studies were all sponsored by industry.

6. Sucralose

  • Also known as Splenda, E955
  • Up to 1000 times sweeter than table sugar
  • Approved by the FDA in 1998
  • Stable when heated and can be used in baking
  • The manufacturer, McNeil Nutritionals, claims that sucralose “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” In fact, it is a synthetic product made by a chemical reaction of sugar (sucrose) and chlorine
  • Potential issues include DNA alternation (a 2002 study in mice) and damage to healthy gut bacteria (2008)
  • A 2013 study (unpublished yet) indicated sucralose may cause cancer in rats.

7. Stevia

  • Also known as Rebaudioside A, Reb-A, Rebiana, Pure Via, Truvia
  • Up to 300 times sweeter than sugar
  • Approved by the FDA in 2008
  • The stevia plant, native of South America, is naturally sweet and has been in use for hundreds of years
  • The powdered stevia sweetener is derived from the stevia leaf through a complex chemical process
  • Not enough studies have been conducted on stevia extracts. Some studies showed infertility in mice and potential for genetic mutations. Further research is needed.

8. Monkfruit Sweetener

  • Also known as Luo Han Guo, Lo Han Kuo, Nectresse
  • 200 times sweeter than table sugar
  • Extracted from Monkfruit through a complex process
  • No health issues at present, but not enough research has been conducted.

Sources:

  1. Testing Needed for Acesulfame Potassium, an Artificial Sweetener – Karstadt, M. L. (2006), Environmental Health Perspectives
  2. Low-calorie Sweeteners and Other Sugar Substitutes: A Review of the Safety Issues – Kroger, Meister, Kava (2006), Wiley
  3. Saccharin mechanistic data and risk assessment: Urine composition, enhanced cell proliferation, and tumor promotion – Whysner, Williams (1996) Pharmacology & Therapeutics
  4. Aspartame induces lymphomas and leukaemias in rats – Soffritti,  Belpoggi, Esposti, Lambertini (2005) Cancer Research Centre, European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences, Bologna, Italy
  5. The comet assay with 8 mouse organs: results with 39 currently used food additives – Sasaki, Kawaguchi, Kamaya, Ohshita, Kabasawa, Iwama, Taniguchi, Tsuda (2002), Mutational Research
  6. Toxicology of Rebaudioside A: A Review – Kobylewski, Eckert (2008) – UCLA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH SCIENCES
    AND MOLECULAR TOXICOLOGY
  7. Soffritti M, Padovani M, Tibaldi E, Falcioni L, Manservisi F, Belpoggi F. The carcinogenic effects of aspartame: The urgent need for regulatory re-evaluation. Am J Ind Med. 2014;57(4):383-97.
  8. Schernhammer ES, Bertrand KA, Birmann BM, Sampson L, Willett WC, Feskanich D. Consumption of artificial sweetener–and sugar-containing soda and risk of lymphoma and leukemia in men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 2012;96:1419–28.
  9. Soffritti M, Belpoggi F, Manservigi M, Tibaldi E, Lauriola M, Falcioni L, Bua L. 2010. Aspartame administered in feed, beginning prenatally through life span, induces cancers of the liver and lung in male Swiss mice. Am J Ind Med. 2010;53(12):1197-206.
  10. Soffritti M, Belpoggi F, Tibaldi E, Degli Esposti D, Lauriola M.  Life span exposure to low doses of aspartame beginning during prenatal life increases cancer effects in rats. Environ Health Perspect 2007;115(9):1293-7.
  11. Soffriti M, Belpoggi F, Degli Esposti D, Lambertini L, Tibaldi E, Rigano A. First experimental demonstration of the multipotential carcinogenic effects of aspartame administered in the feed to Sprague-Dawley rats. Environ Health Perspect 2006;114:379–385.
  12. Bryan GT, Erturk E, Yoshida O. Production of urinary bladder carcinomas in mice by sodium saccharin. Science 1970;168:1238–40.
  13. Arnold DL, Moodie CA, Grice HC, Charbonneau SM, Stavric B, Collins BT, et al. Long-term toxicity of orthotoluenesulfonamide and sodium saccharin in the rat. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 1980;52:113–52.
  14. Reuber MD. Carcinogenicity of saccharin. Environ Health Perspect 1978;25:173-200.
  15. 1983;4:97–9.
  16. Hoover RN, Strasser PH. Artificial sweeteners and human bladder cancer: Preliminary results. Lancet 1980;1:837-40.

Get Fooducated

  • rubicon bill

    After reading this I think I will try harder to leave all of it alone!

  • Michael

    How does truvia rate, a mixture of stevia and real sugar? I know its not considered a zero calorie sweetener (5 cal. per 1/2 tsp.) but to me using real sugar even if its half is better than using manmade sugars. Plus being so sweet, you don’t need to use as much.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      Stevia mixes are less worrying than some of the hardcore artificial sweeteners, but the goal should be to reduce overall consumption of sweet.

      • Sam J.

        truvia is 99% GMO erythritol, the small amount of stevia present’s sole purpose is giving them the ability to call it a stevia blend.

        • Sam J.

          also, I think it is worth noting that the actual stevia leaf is not “artificial” nor is it “zero calorie”. the processing and bleaching of stevia into powdered form should be avoided, but extracts made from reputable brands such as Sweet Leaf (used to be NuNaturals as well but their formula has changed) are generally regarded as safe. stevia extract is indeed zero calorie, but not because it was formulated in a laboratory to be such. just like vanilla extract, which is also zero calories and does not get labeled as artificial.

      • Aelfgifu

        Stevia is one of the most dangerous sweeteners out there. It’s banned in the EU for a reason. I was surprised to see it ranked so well on this list.

  • http://worldclasslasik.com/cataracts/cataract-surgery-cost Lasik

    Essential info, thanks

  • Patrick A51

    I have been using Monk-fruit sweetener for about 5 mo. now not only have my blood sugars gone down , but stuff tastes better. I have Stevia and I really see no difference in it and Monk-fruit. I only use them in Iced Tea or Iced Coffee. Both of these sweeteners are over priced and really not worth the cost. I drink my coffee black with no sweetener in it unless it’s iced. I am the same with hot tea. Thank you for posting this information.

    • jane

      I bought some actual Stevia leaves to add to my tea. It makes the hot tea nice and sweet.

      • Capricious

        Brilliant!

      • Golfergirl

        Where can you buy stevia leaf?

        • Gina

          I purchased a stevia plant through The Tasteful Garden. It will be shipped soon so I haven’t used any leaves yet but would be an easy source…not processed or engineered. I am sure the plants are available from other sources tho the above site is reg’d organic.

    • deba

      What about the liquid Agave?

  • Fairfield Easton

    This seems rather alarmist. Cyclamates were banned in error in the US and safely in use throughout the world. Your reference #1 is based on opinions of the CSPI, a professionally alarmist group. Safety studies are always carried out by industry, but under FDA supervision, as the FDA is not funded to carry all that product testing. They must still be satisfied with the results. And citing as yet unpublished papers does not provide much useful information.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      1. Cyclamates were banned in the US and are used in other countries, but not necessarily “safely”.

      2. “under FDA supervision”: The FDA reviews information as provided by the companies, who are not objective. If you’ve ever done lab work or designed a study, you know that a desired outcome can be engineered. See again this post: http://blog.fooducate.com/2013/04/15/the-problem-with-science-funded-by-industry/

      The FDA should not do the study, an objective third party should.

      3. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a consumer advocacy group, not funded by any powerful lobbies. Why are consumer protection groups always called “alarmist” by lobbyists?

      • kristen

        Nice reply!

  • Aria Gonzalez

    What about Xylitol? I use that on occasion, usually when I’m baking.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      It’s a sugar alcohol and not zero calories. We’ll write about sugar alcohols in another blog post.

      • Annie 124

        Does anyone know how sorbitol fits in

        • Falguni Dalal

          Sorbitol is also another type of sugar alcohol

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate
  • Xy Gris

    Additional suggested sources are;

    A Role for Sweet Taste: Calorie Predictive Relations in Energy Regulation
    by Rats By Susan E. Swithers and Terry L. Davidson
    Purdue University Published in Behavioral Neuroscience Copyright 2008 by the American Psychological Association
    2008, Vol. 122, No. 1, 161–173
    I can not find the second paper but it said Truvia is not made from Stevia it is erythritol and rebiana flavored with Stevia.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      Thanks!

  • Cactus_Wren

    Nice touch of well-poisoning there, with the completely irrelevant mention of Monsanto — a snarl word if ever there was one.

  • Healthy Man

    The Montra is the same; Eat small or no amount of problematic substances and more of known healthy foods!!!!

  • Navi

    What about Agave sweetener?

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      It’s not a zero calorie sweetener.

    • arealpatriot

      Agave Nectar has more fructose then regular sugar.

  • Aelfgifu

    This article falls short of actually explaining anything specific about these sweeteners. If you want to learn about what’s really going on and what it means when the “FDA refutes the findings of these studies” then check out this much better article from Mother Jones. It actually explains what’s going on and doesn’t fall prey to the naturalistic fallacy.

    http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/11/sugar-substitute-sweeteners-safe

  • Samantha74

    Thank you for this information and the comments. I’ve been using the Skinny Girl brand of liquid stevia, agave and monkfruit. Does anyone have any helpful info on this brand? I just use it in tea and coffee sometimes halfed with real sugar.

  • cm

    What about xylitol??

  • Alyssa

    Where does xylitol fit? I know it doesn’t call itself a zero calorie sweetener but it is a low calorie sweetener… I work for a company that sells health products and everyone raves about it…

  • Ed

    I believe natural sugar cane is best for you. It is processed through the body and doesn’t get stored into your fat cells after your pancreas has digested it.

  • gsr72

    What about Sugar Twin?

  • PJ

    Funny how the same people that use the argument that something is not safe because it’s not FDA approved will also turn around and shun something else because FDA findings are influenced by industry funding. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Same with the rat studies showing probable, possible, maybe-maybe not danger…but also hint that rats metabolism are different and not a good comparison.

    The entire article has cleared nothing up, in fact it is meant to leave you in a confused and uncertain state questioning safety, which will of course lead you to use natural sugars….and you should as much as practical, but people shouldn’t lose their minds out of fear if a few products they use contains a popular sweetener. Unfortunately, fear is a great motivator…so props to the author, very well crafted to sway people in a better direction, despite a lack of overall perspective…understanding of course that had you hinted that any of the above were remotely safe…people would feel no danger and thus not compelled to make changes in their choices of sugar or substitutes.

  • Pam

    I admit that I am a diet coke junkie and find it impossible to just give it up. Any tips? Cold Turkey? Are there any safe diet COLA?

  • abbydmd

    How about xylotol? Any problems with that?

  • Emily Hill

    Erythritol. This is a Sugar Alch. Zero Calories. They claim Natural and zero to your glycemic Index. Certainly there will be persons reactions or allergies,…but what about the masses? I want to know more…any info on this? I understand only large amounts may induce gas or the poopies, but the amount I use for coffee and such has not caused me any problems. The taste is pretty good (and I’ve tried them all!),… I have been all over the internet looking for bad side affects (that should affect most of us; not the few). Can’t find. FYi: Truvia is a brand of Erythritol (not real sugar) and a tiny bit of Stevia. Wholesome Sweetners has come out with a brand called Zero Packets (100% Erythyitol). With the recent studies done on natural sugar (which includes honey, agave, cane, fresh juice, syrup and all the rest), the maximum recommended amounts are very very low. With the recent studies done on carbohydrates, I would rather save those counts for fruit and carbs that come from real food. Sugars are out! = Most packaged products are out! Look at our behinds and bellies compared to 40 years ago,… that should say it all! Great education lectures are on the internet and if you watch enough of them, the message is generally the same. Watch your carbs (approx max. 50-80gr/day; that incl. sugars, fruit, veggies, grains, & even dairy & others) and pretty much eliminate sugar as much as you can without enabling your ability to socialize and enjoy the OCCASIONAL birthday cake or a glass of wine. (Sug.max is 9tsp or 36g for women) Our sugar eating & drinking culture must evolve to something healthier. We are slowly killing our children, our future generation,…sadly but realistically, because we are addicted ourselves to the sweet. Don’t take my word for it, get real and research it yourself.

  • MikeNH

    Ughh… really, nice scare tactic with the “cancer?” line.

    Artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame, have been tested more than any other food additive.

    If anyone is interested in a rational look at artificial sweeteners, without the scare tactics presented here, check out this link.

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/are-artificial-sweeteners-safe/

  • Michael Eddy

    well, I’m done with fooducate. more alarmist crap about some artificial sweeteners that have been shown time and time again to be safe. not just by the fda, but other countries health organizations as well. your story left out crucial details and I would think an organization such as yourself would be more intelligent in their posts. time to move on because it now casts doubts on your other posts.

    • Keith

      I just found this website, been scrolling through, perfect site for laughter on someone actually educated in nutrition. Rating pastries as decent due to fiber! hahahahha

  • Maja

    wow, Really? Stevia and monkfruit extract are getting a bad name? If Stevia, for example, has been used for thousands of years, then I’m sticking with it.

  • Sue

    So when presented with the choice, does that mean we should consume real sugar than 0 calorie sweeteners?

  • Nunya

    I use stevia now and then but my prefered sweetner is raw organic honey.

  • Emily

    This was a very simplistic article that left out vital info including that white refines sugar and hfcs are dangerous. Bottom line. .. Only pre cane sugar, natural stevia plant, unpasteurized honey, organic fruit sugar are found to be perfectly date and healthy.

  • Jocedlyne

    I shared this on my Facebook but it is still not showing … How long does it take to show?

  • Keith

    If one is to site rat studies as to implications on humans. Then every animal product should be put under the same review. Every study, credible, that I’ve found shows if rats are given 15% or more animal protein in their daily intake they get cancer rather quickly. So shouldn’t this be cited in every one of your animal protein products? – For example: see The China Study, the most credible nutritional study out there. The facts, raw data, is even given for the most disagreeing people.

  • skitstovel

    I would LOVE to see a comparative study of sugar vs artificial sweeteners. My bet is that, if you feed lab rats a comparable amount of sugar, they’ll be much sicker.
    Remember, the sugar lobby (corn, beets, cane,) is one of the biggest in the world…