North Shore Family Health Team

Schreiber, Terrace Bay, Rossport, Jack Fish and Pays Plat

What Sweetener Do I Choose?

This is a question that I receive on a weekly basis and I understand why because there is so much information out there.  It’s already hard enough to function before the morning coffee let alone, trying to figure out what sweetener to put in it!

First off, I am going to break these sweeteners into two groups: nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners.

The nutritive sweeteners are basically the sweeteners that provide our body with calories (about 16 – 21 kcal/tsp).  These sweeteners include sucrose (table sugar), high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), brown sugar, molasses, agave, honey and maple syrup.  There is a belief out there that some of these nutritive sweeteners are better than the other (honey versus sucrose for example).  Unfortunately, that is not entirely the case.  There may be a presence of some minerals in some of these sweeteners such as riboflavin and maganese in maple syrup but the amounts are so small that it does not make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.  It is not very common to worry about experiencing a deficiency in either of those nutrients.  The main difference between these sweeteners is the way they are processed, their taste and the consistency it may add to certain food products.  The major concern about the intake of these sweeteners is consuming to much of them has been linked to obesity, tooth decay, cavities and type 2 diabetes.  Also, those who are looking out for the health of their liver should pay particular attention to the use HFCS and agave. The liver is the only place in the body that can process fructose so consuming too much HFCS and/or agave (which is 90% fructose) can put some unnecessary stress on your liver especially if a lot of these sweeteners are consumed over a long period of time.

Moving onto the non-nutritive sweeteners!

Sweetener Common/brand name Forms & uses Other things you should know
Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K)
  • Not available for purchase as a single ingredient
  • Added to packaged foods and beverages only by food manufacturers
  • Safe in pregnancy*
  • ADI = 15 mg/kg body weight per day. For example, a 50 kg (110 lb) person could have 750 mg of Ace-K per day. One can of diet pop contains about 42 mg of Ace-K.
Aspartame
  • Equal®
  • NutraSweet®
  • Private label brand
  • Available in packets, tablets or granulated form
  • Added to drinks, yogurts, cereals, low-calorie desserts, chewing gum and many other foods
  • Flavour may change when heated
  • Safe in pregnancy*
  • ADI = 40 mg/kg body weight per day. For example, a 50 kg (110 lb) person could safely have 2000 mg of aspartame per day. One can of diet pop may contain up to 200 mg of aspartame.
Cyclamate
  • Sucaryl®
  • Sugar Twin®
  • Sweet’N Low®
  • Private label brand
  • Available in packets, tablets, liquid and granulated form
  • Not allowed to be added to packaged foods and beverages
  • Flavour may change when heated
  • Safe in pregnancy* (Be cautious of exceeding ADI)
  • ADI = 11 mg/kg body weight per day. For example, a 50 kg (110 lb) person could have 550 mg of cyclamate per day. One packet of Sugar Twin® contains 264 mg of cyclamate.
Saccharin
  • Hermesetas®
  • Available as tablets
  • Not allowed to be added to packaged foods and beverages
  • Safe in pregnancy*
  • ADI = 5 mg/kg body weight per day. For example, a 50 kg (110 lb) person could have 250 mg of saccharin per day. One tablet of Hermesetas® contains 12 mg of saccharin.
  • Available only in pharmacies
Sucralose
  • Splenda®
  • Available in packets or granulated form. Added to packaged foods and beverages
  • Can be used for cooking and baking
  • Safe in pregnancy*
  • ADI = 9 mg/kg body weight per day. For example, a 50 kg (110 lb) person could have 450 mg of sucralose per day. One packet of Splenda® contains 12 mg of sucralose; one cup (250 mL) contains about 250 mg of sucralose.
Steviol glycosides Stevia-based sweeteners such as:

  • Stevia
  • Truvia
  • Krisda
  • Pure Via
  • Table top sweeteners
  • Added to drinks, breakfast cereals, yogurt, fillings, gum, spreads, baked products, snack foods
  • Safe in pregnancy*
  • ADI = 4 mg/kg body weight per day. For example, a 50 kg (110 lb) person could have 200 mg of Stevia per day. A 30 g portion of breakfast cereal may contain 11 mg of steviol glycosides.

As you can see… I have a break down of the non-nutritive sweeteners here.  Which (if any) are safe?  This is where the controversy lies…  many studies have been done on these sweeteners and some of them have linked to cancer in rats BUT… we can’t really translate that to humans.  Also, the amount given to these rats are significantly higher than what the average person would consume.  To date, there is no research linking consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners to cancer risk in humans if they don’t go over the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI).  ADI is the measure of a substance (in this case, sweeteners) that can be consumed on a daily basis over a lifetime without any significant health risks.  We would have to try really hard to go over the ADI for sweeteners (think about 16 cans of diet pop per day, everyday).  There has also been some studies that suggest the sweeteners aspartame and saccharin may upset the intestinal flora of the gut but more research is needed.

Overall, I do believe the choice to use sweeteners is up to the individual and what they feel is best for them at the time.  Either way, nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners should be used in moderation.  The more you use, the less sensitive you become to the taste of sweet and the more sugar you need to satisfy any cravings.  No matter what sweetener you choose, aim to cut down the amount you use.  That will open to opportunity to experience and savour the natural flavours of foods.

Andrea Kennedy RD CDE

Posted on August 15, 2017