What You Need to Know about Zero-Calorie Sweeteners

by Sabrina Krebs

Overview: In an experimental study of mice published in Frontiers in Microbiology, researchers found that prenatal and postnatal exposure to #zero-calorie #sweeteners were associated with an adverse effect on mice pup metabolism. The two FDA approved zero-calorie sweeteners investigated in this study were sucralose and acesulfame-K.

Article Citation: Stichelen, S. O., Rother, K. I., & Hanover, J. A. (2019). Maternal Exposure to Non-nutritive Sweeteners Impacts Progeny’s Metabolism and Microbiome. Frontiers in Microbiology, 10. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2019.01360

Abstract Link: View Here

Study Methodology: Experimental, randomized controlled trials (RCT)

Human or Animal Participants: Mice

Who Does This Research Impact: While the study was focused on providing guidance for pregnant or lactating women, this study can also provide #healthy eating guidance to adults in general.

How to Use this Info: 

  • Not Only Food: Be aware of what products have zero-calorie sweeteners. Examples beyond food and drinks include mouthwash, toothpaste and even some medicines.
  • If You Must, Only a Little: If you do consume zero-calorie sweeteners, know the #Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) amounts that have been determined by the FDA (see the European Commission ADI values here, which are lower than the FDA’s). These values are “set at a level 100 times LESS than that which could potentially cause harm in animals”. See this chart for more information on the sweeteners: their brand names, multipliers of sweetness intensity compared to sugar and more. See a Diet Detective overview of sweeteners here.
    • Acesulfame-K: Acesulfame potassium is sold under the brand names Sunett® and Sweet One®, and is 200 times sweeter than sugar. The ADI for this sweetener is 15 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day (mg/kg/bw/day).
    • Advantame: Advantame is a general purpose sweetener and is 20,000 times sweeter than sugar. The ADI for this sweetener is 32.8 mg/kg/bw/day.
    • Aspartame: Aspartame is sold under the brand names Nutrasweet®, Equal®, and Sugar Twin®, and is 200 times sweeter than sugar. The ADI for this sweetener is 50 mg/kg/bw/day. Individuals with phenylketonuria (PKU), should avoid aspartame as it contains phenylalanine. When sold individually, it appears in blue packets for easy distinction.
    • Neotame: Neotame is sold under the brand name Newtame®, and is 7,000-13,000 times sweeter than sugar.  The ADI for this sweetener is 0.3 mg/kg/bw/day.
    • Saccharin: Saccharin is sold under the brand names Sweet and Low®, Sweet Twin®, Sweet’N Low®, and Necta Sweet®, and is 200-700 times sweeter than sugar. The ADI for this sweetener is 15 mg/kg/bw/day. Saccharin was originally linked to bladder cancer in rat studies but 30 human studies on saccharin since demonstrated results were not consistent.  When sold individually, it appears in pink packets for easy distinction.
    • Steviol Glycosides: Steviol glycosides, the purified “natural constituents” of stevia leaves, is 200-400 times sweeter than sugar. The ADI for this sweetener is 4 mg/kg/bw/day. This sweetener is a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) food item, however, “use of stevia leaf and crude stevia extracts is not considered GRAS and their import into the United States is not permitted for use as sweeteners.” When sold individually, it appears in green packets for easy distinction.
    • Sucralose: Sucralose is sold under the brand name Splenda® and is 600 times sweeter than sugar. The ADI for this sweetener is 5 mg/kg/bw/day. When sold individually, it appears in yellow packets for easy distinction.
  • Avoiding Zero-Calorie Sweeteners: It may be best to avoid all zero-calorie sweetener consumption despite the FDA reviewing and approving most zero-calorie sweeteners for consumption, it may be best to avoid all zero-calorie sweetener consumption. Not only is it challenging to #track how much you are consuming (because food labels do not specify the amount of zero-calorie sweetener added), but also these sweeteners may require more extensive research because of the “critical knowledge gaps” related to their effects.
  • Alternatives to Zero-Calorie Sweeteners: Sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and xylitol, are slightly lower in calories than sugar. However, sugar alcohols can produce abdominal gas, bloating, and diarrhea in some individuals.
  • Don’t Just Replace Sugar, Reduce Sugar: For the greatest health benefits, such as lowering your risk of #metabolic disease (inherited or acquired disease caused by abnormal metabolic processes), reduce your overall added sugar consumption instead of replacing sugar with zero-calorie sweeteners. No more than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from added sugars, even natural sugars like honey. Learn how to track your added sugar consumption, overall food consumption and daily calories here.
  • Stay Aware When Abroad: Be mindful and avoid zero-calorie sweeteners that are prohibited by the FDA, when living or traveling outside the United States. Cyclamates and their salts are currently prohibited for use in the United States.

Number of Related Studies on:

Related Studies:

Are Results Consistent With Other Related Studies: A 2015 review of several epidemiological studies demonstrated that consumption of zero-calorie sweeteners had adverse effects on metabolism. A 2013 study of non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) similarly concludes that for “optimal health it is recommended that only minimal amounts of both sugar and NNS be consumed.” Another study focused specifically on artificially-sweetened beverages suggests that there are negative metabolic effects from consuming these beverages and reduction in overall low-calorie sweetener use may be warranted. Additionally, a study also found an association between zero-calorie sweeteners and the risk of metabolic disease.

Limitations of Study: The major limitation of the 2019 study is that it was conducted on mice. For more accurate conclusions regarding human health, this research should be reproduced in humans. However, experimental studies on nutrition are more easily conducted on mice (as it is easier to control for all variables), and as stated by the researchers, metabolic disease and obesity research show that mice and humans have similar microbiomes.

References and Related Information:

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