Sugar Substitutes

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Date: 2007
Biotechnology: Changing Life Through Science
From: Biotechnology: Changing Life Through Science(Vol. 2: Agriculture. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 5
Content Level: (Level 3)

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Page 501

Sugar Substitutes


Sugar substitutes are products created in a laboratory that are designed to taste sweet. Sugar substitutes are sometimes called artificial sweeteners. They are used in foods and drinks that are low-calorie, for people who want to lose weight; or low-sugar, for people with the medical conditions like diabetes, who cannot eat large amounts of table sugar.

Unlike natural sugar, sugar substitutes do not contain calories, or have very few calories. They are often added to diet foods and beverages such as soda. Sugar substitutes are also much sweeter than regular sugar, so people only need to use a small amount to get a similar taste. The extra sweetening power means manufacturers do not need to use as much as they would if they used regular sugar. This saves them money.

There are many different types of sugar substitutes. The five approved for use in the United States are:

  • Saccharin
  • Aspartame
  • Sucralose
  • Acesulfame potassium (also called acesulfame-K)
  • Neotame.

Saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose all come in a powder form that people can mix in their drinks and foods.

Saccharin is can be found in many products worldwide, including the sugar substitute Sweet 'n Low®. It is 300 to 700 times sweeter than regular sugar. Saccharin stays sweet in both hot and cold drinks.

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The three main varieties of sugar substitute on the market: Splenda® (sucralose), Equal® (aspartame), and Sweet 'n Low® (saccharin). The three main varieties of sugar substitute on the market: Splenda® (sucralose), Equal® (aspartame), and Sweet 'n Low® (saccharin). © Octane Photographic.

Aspartame is the sweetening ingredient in Equal® and NutraSweet®. This type of sugar substitute is about 200 times sweeter than regular sugar. However, aspartame loses its sweet taste when heated, so it is not a good sugar substitute for baking.

Sucralose is one of the newest types of sugar substitutes, and is commonly called Splenda®. It is about 600 times sweeter than regular sugar. Unlike saccharin and aspartame, sucralose is made from natural sugar. But, because it still is created through a chemical process, it is considered an artificial sweetener. Sucralose stays sweet when heated, and can be used for cooking and baking.

Neotame is a super-sweet product is added to sugarless chewing gum, jams, jellies, and other ready-to-eat foods. This sweetener is 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than regular sugar.

Acesulfame potassium is among the least sweet of the sugar substitutes. It is about 200 times sweeter than regular sugar. Manufacturers add this artificial sweetener to products such as cookies and candies. It is sold under the brand name Sunett®, among others.

Cyclamate is a sugar substitute that became unavailable in the United States in 1970 because animal studies showed it caused cancer. However, it is still used in many other countries around the world. Cyclamate is about 30 times sweeter than table sugar. Alitame Page 503  |  Top of Article(Aclame™) is another artificial sweetener used in Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, China, and other countries, but not in the United States. It is 2,000 times sweeter than regular sugar.


Saccharin is the oldest type of sugar substitute. Chemists Ira Remsen and Constantine Fahlberg accidentally discovered it in 1879. One of the men noticed his fingers tasted sweet after working with chemicals to make a brownish-black liquid called coal tar. The two scientists published an article about their discovery in 1880. Fahlberg later took full credit of the discovery and never mentioned Remsen. During World War I (1915–1918) and World War II (1938–1941), people used saccharin when natural sugar was in short supply. Saccharin was the only alternative to sugar in the United States for many decades.

Scientific Foundations

In 1965, chemist James M. Schlatter noticed that two chemicals he mixed together (asparatic acid and phenylalanine) tasted sweet. The result was the second sugar substitute approved in the United States, aspartame. In 1981, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said aspartame was safe to use in foods.

Sucralose was invented by researchers in London. They made this sugar substitute by replacing some molecules in regular table sugar (sucrose) with three chlorine atoms. The FDA approved sucralose in 1998.

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Insatiable Sweet Tooth

Americans are the largest consumers of artificial sweeteners in the world, although their use is also climbing in Europe. Each year, the average American consumes about fifty pounds (23 kilograms) of artificial sweeteners, and this is in addition to, rather than instead of, about ninety pounds (41 kilograms) of natural sugars. America's sweet tooth is contributing to the growing problem of an overweight population.

Neotame was developed by the Monsanto chemical company in California. Researchers there added a chemical called 3-dimethyl-butyl to the already approved sweetener aspartame. Unlike aspartame, neotame kept its flavor during cooking. The FDA approved neotame in 2002 for use by food and drink makers. It is not approved for use by the general public.

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Although scientists at the chemical company Hoechst discovered acesulfame potassium (acesulfame K) in 1967, the FDA did not approve this artificial sweetener until 1998, when it was added to sodas. In 2003, the FDA said the product was okay for general use. Research has shown that acesulfame K works well in fruity drinks, dairy products, and baked goods, as well as personal care products like toothpaste and mouthwash.

Current Issues

The American Heart Association and American Diabetics Association say the approved sugar substitutes are a good choice for people with diabetes, because the products do not raise the amount of sugar in the blood. People with diabetes must control their intake of sugar because their pancreas is unable to make enough insulin, the body's natural regulator of carbohydrates (sugars and starches), and the glucose (a simple sugar) that is formed when carbohydrates are digested.

Since the introduction of saccharin, there has always been controversy surrounding artificial sweeteners. Early studies involving saccharin and aspartame found that the products cause cancer in rats, but only after the animals were given extremely large amounts of the sugar substitutes. In 1958, the U.S. Congress passed a new law called the Saccharin Study and Labeling Act, which meant that any foods containing saccharin would undergo close review, and had to carry a label that said "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals."

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Words to Know

A disease in which the body cannot make or properly use the hormone, insulin.
A genetic disorder in which human body fails to produce the enzyme that breaks down phenyalanine. Accumulation of phenylalanine causes brain damage.

In the 1970s, the FDA started reviewing scientific information about saccharin. Studies released at this time said that rats that were fed saccharin developed bladder cancer. However, other researchers said the cancer was caused by other unpure substances. Canada banned use of saccharin in 1977.

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Similar concerns have been raised about aspartame. Some safety tests suggested the sugar substitute caused brain tumors in rats. The finding delayed approval for aspartame for quite some time. Some experts say there has been an increase in brain cancer in the United States since the product's approval.

However, some sweeteners may cause other health problems such as headaches and stomach aches. Any products containing aspartame must carry a label saying the ingredient is dangerous for those with phenylketonuria, a disease passed down through families that causes dangerous levels of phenylalanine to build up in the blood. Aspartame, when it is broken down by the body, causes phenylalanine to be released into the blood. Untreated, the disease can cause brain damage.

Despite concerns about safety, the U.S. National Institutes of Health says there is no real evidence to show that the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the United States cause cancer.

For More Information

American Diabetes Association. "Sugar and Sugar Substitutes." 〈〉 (accessed on March 22, 2006).

Calorie Control Council. "Benefits of Using Low-Calorie Sweeteners." 〈〉 (accessed on March 23, 2006).

National Cancer Institute. "Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer: Questions and Answers." 〈〉 (accessed on March 21, 2006).

[See Also Vol. 2, Fat Substitutes .]

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2830700118