Sugar Substitutes

Young women's version of this guide
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iStock_000009453083SmallSugar substitutes are substances used to sweeten foods and beverages instead of sucrose (sugar). You’ll find a variety of foods on the market that contain sugar substitutes; some advertise this fact but for others you need to look closely at the ingredient list. Some products that contain sugar substitutes are: diet soda, sugar-free syrup, gum, ice cream, fruit cups, light yogurt, pudding, and more. There are different kinds of sugar substitutes that include artificial sweeteners, stevia, and sugar alcohols. There are some benefits to using sugar substitutes.

Sugar substitutes:

  • Have few or no calories
  • Do not cause your blood sugar to go up like regular sugar does
  • Do not cause tooth decay or cavities

What are artificial sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners are chemicals that are generally much sweeter than sugar, so a smaller amount of them is needed to have the same sweetness as sugar. They typically provide very little to no calories and have no nutrients in them.

Examples of artificial sweeteners include:

  • Saccharin (Sweet’N Low®, SugarTwin®)
  • Acesulfame K (Sunett®, Sweet One®)
  • Sucralose (Splenda®)
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet®, Equal®)

Products containing aspartame have a warning label because they are NOT safe for use by people that have the hereditary disease Phenylketonuria (PKU). Pregnant women may be advised by their doctor to avoid saccharin due to the unknown long-term effects.

What is stevia?

Stevia is the common name for sweeteners such as Good & Sweet®, PureVia® and Truvia® that are found naturally in the stevia rebaudiana plant. Unlike other sugar substitutes, stevia originates from a plant rather than being a manmade chemical. However, chemicals are used in the processing of stevia. Stevia sweeteners provide zero calories and are one of the most recently approved sugar substitutes by the FDA. Stevia sweeteners can be found in packets and in a variety of drinks and foods.

What are sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that are found naturally in plants that are added to sugar-free and reduced-sugar foods. They are usually 25-100% as sweet as sugar and they provide 1.5 – 3 calories/gram when compared to sugar (which provides 4 calories/gram). Sugar alcohols can cause gas and loose stools since they are not completely digested by the body. Therefore, foods that contain sugar alcohols include the label “excess consumption may have a laxative effect”.

Sugar alcohols are used in anything from candy to gum to bakery goods and ice cream.

Examples of sugar alcohols include:

  • Sorbitol
  • Mannitol
  • Zylitol
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol
  • Erythritol

Are sugar substitutes safe?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider sugar substitutes to be “safe food additives”. The FDA has also set an “acceptable daily intake” (ADI) for each sweetener which is an amount they feel is safe to have each day. It is measured in milligrams per pound of body weight per day. These amounts, listed in the table below, are higher than the amount most people usually have in a day. Sugar substitutes have never been shown to increase the risk of other diseases. Even though they might not be bad for you, the most nutritious foods and drinks (such as fruits, vegetables, milk and water) don’t contain sugar substitutes.


SweetenerADI* In milligrams (mg) per pound (lb)Estimated ADI equivalent in packets of sweetener for a person weighing 150lbsAverage sweetness compared to sugar
(NutraSweet®, Equal®)
22.7 mg per lb97.4 packets220 times sweeter
(Sweet’N Low®, SugarTwin®)
2.3 mg per lb8.6 packets200-700 times sweeter
Acesulfame K
(Sunett®, Sweet One®)
6.8 mg per lb20.4 packets200 times sweeter
2.3 mg per lb68.2 packets600 times sweeter
(Good & Sweet®, PureVia®, Truvia®)
Not yet established30 packets200-300 times sweeter
*FDA-established acceptable daily intake (ADI) limit per pound of body weight
Information adapted from

Are there any other ways to make my food taste sweet (without adding sugar substitutes)?

There are other ways to make your foods more flavorful without adding sugar substitutes, sugar, or honey. Try adding spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon to yogurt, cooked cereals, cookies, or coffee. You can also experiment with flavors such as vanilla and cocoa powder in pudding and baked goods.

Sugar substitutes can be used as a safe alternative to sugar. It’s important that we use them in moderation and eat mostly foods without added sugar or sugar substitutes.