Are sugar substitutes safe?

Sweeteners have become increasingly popular as people look for different ways to satisfy their sweet tooth, without the associated energy (kilojoules or calories) of regular sugar.

Sweeteners can be divided into three categories:

  • artificial sweeteners
  • nutritive sweeteners
  • natural intense sweeteners. 

Artificial sweeteners
Artificial or non-nutritive sweeteners are often used as an alternative to sugar. These sweeteners are energy (kilojoule or calorie) free.

Artificial sweeteners are found in a wide range of food and drink products in the supermarket.

Many are ‘tabletop sweeteners’ that can be used to add sweetness to tea, coffee, cereal and fruit in place of sugar.

There are also a number of other products such as cordials, soft drinks, jellies, yoghurt, ice cream, chewing gum, lollies, desserts and cakes that use these sweeteners. These products are often labelled ‘diet’, ‘low joule’ or ‘no sugar’.

Nutritive sweeteners
Nutritive sweeteners are based on different types of carbohydrates. Products that contain these sweeteners may be labelled ‘carbohydrate modified’.

The sweeteners provide a sweet taste, have less energy (kilojoule or calorie) than sugar but they are not kilojoule/calorie free.

Natural intense sweeteners
A more recent addition to the sweeteners market is Stevia, a ‘natural’ sweetener. Stevia is between 200–300 times sweeter than regular sugar and contains no energy (kilojoules or calories ).

It is extracted from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, a shrub from the chrysanthemum family that is native to South America.

Stevia was introduced to Australia in 2008 but has been used by South American tribes for centuries and has been commercially available in Japan since the 1970s.

In food and drink products, Stevia is listed by either its name or three-digit number (960). It is commonly used in flavoured waters and soft drinks.

Are they safe?
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) regularly reviews safety evidence and recommends a maximum level permitted in foods before approving sweeteners, and other additives, for use in Australia.

There is some evidence that consuming foods and drinks made with sweeteners can help weight loss by reducing energy (kilojoule or calorie) intake.

However, fizzy drinks, both sugar sweetened and those using sweeteners, may still cause dental problems.

Water is the best choice to drink.

Food and drinks that contain a mixture of sweeteners and sugars are lower in sugar, but they can still contribute to excess energy (kilojoule or calorie) intake.

It is important to remember that the use of sweeteners does not give a green light to eat or drink a product in large amounts.

Do you use sugar substitutes regularly? Have they helped you lose weight?

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Written by Ben


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