There’s a lot of mystery inside those little pink, blue, and yellow packets. Despite decades of use, artificial and natural sugar substitutes still provoke lingering concerns among consumers. Here’s what you need to know about the safety of sugar substitutes, what they’re in, and how to use them to your advantage.
By Jessie Shafer, Marsha McCulloch, RD, LD, and Jane Burnett, RD, LD, 2013
The Facts About Sugar Substitutes
Some of the most frequent questions we receive at Diabetic Living are about sugar substitutes. The topic is polarizing: some of you love them, some of you hate them. Some of you are concerned about their safety, and some of you want tips for how to use them more. For many people with diabetes, sugar substitutes — which include artificial and natural sweeteners — provide solutions for cutting out excess calories and carbohydrate while still being able to enjoy sweet treats.
Sugar substitutes are among the world’s most scientifically tested food products, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed them “generally recognized as safe.” The one sweetener that still carries a warning on its label is aspartame (the sweetener in Equal Classic and NutraSweet) because a small group of people — about 1 in 25,000 in the United States — has a genetic condition that prevents the metabolizing of phenylalanine, an amino acid in aspartame.
While there is still a lot of testing to be done as new products enter the market, we know a lot more about sweeteners now than we did when the first sugar substitute, saccharin, was discovered more than 100 years ago.