Got a sweet tooth? Here’s the scoop on artificial sweeteners or “non-nutritive sweeteners” as we call them.
The American Heart Association labels low-calorie sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, and noncaloric sweeteners as non-nutritive sweeteners (NNSs), since they offer no nutritional benefits such as vitamins and minerals. They may be low in calories or have no calories, depending upon the brand.
The FDA has given the label “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS), to five* NNSs:
- Aspartame (NutraSweet® and Equal®)
- Acesulfame-K (Sweet One®)
- Saccharin (Sweet’N Low®)
- Sucralose (Splenda®)
*Stevia (Truvia® and PureVia®) doesn’t have a GRAS distinction, but that doesn’t mean it’s dangerous (it just means there isn’t enough evidence yet either way).
Artificial Sweeteners in the Real World
The AHA strongly recommends limiting added sugars. Too much sugar can lead to weight gain, and those extra pounds can lead to a string of health problems. In addition to obesity, it can increase triglyceride levels, a risk factor for heart disease.
Not only are foods and drinks that are high in added sugars generally high in calories and low in nutritional value, they also take the place of more nutritious foods. For example, reaching for a regular soda instead of low-fat or non-fat milk.
Replacing sugary foods and drinks with sugar-free options containing NNSs is one way to limit calories and achieve or maintain a healthy weight. Also, when used to replace food and drinks with added sugars, it can help people with diabetes manage blood glucose levels. For example, swapping a full-calorie soda with diet soda is one way of not increasing blood glucose levels while satisfying a sweet tooth.
We don’t know for sure if using NNSs in food and drinks makes people actually eat or drink fewer calories every day. But reducing the amount of added sugar in your diet? That we know for sure is a good thing.
As you make healthy choices throughout your day, choose foods and beverages that are high in nutrients and low in saturated and trans fats and added sugars. Keep in mind that just because a product is “sugar free,” it doesn’t always mean that it’s healthy.
Foods and beverages that contain NNSs can be included in a healthy diet, as long as the calories they save you are not added back by adding more foods as a reward later in the day, adding back calories that take you over your daily limit.