Artificial Sweeteners

  • Author:
    Betty Kovacs, MS, RD

    Betty is a Registered Dietitian who earned her B.S. degree in Food and Nutrition from Marymount College of Fordham University and her M.S. degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She is the Co-Director and Director of nutrition for the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What is the difference between nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners?

The safety of our food and what goes in it is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When you read the ingredients on your food labels you, will notice things that are not from your basic food groups. Foods from the food groups (grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, meat, and oils) are considered nutritive because they provide nourishment. Products that are added and do not provide any nourishment can be considered nonnutritive.

We like to believe that nothing would be allowed in our food that wasn't considered 100% safe. Unfortunately, this kind of guarantee is not usually possible. In the United States, sweeteners fall under the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list or as food additives under the 1958 Food Additives Amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. According to the FDA, "Regardless of whether the use of a substance is a food additive use or is GRAS, there must be evidence that the substance is safe under the conditions of its intended use. FDA has defined "safe" as a reasonable certainty in the minds of competent scientists that the substance is not harmful under its intended conditions of use. The specific data and information that demonstrate safety depend on the characteristics of the substance, the estimated dietary intake, and the population that will consume the substance."

The guidelines about what constitutes a sweetener to be on the GRAS list versus being listed as a food additive are as follows:

  • For a GRAS substance, generally available data and information about the use of the substance are known and accepted widely by qualified experts, and there is a basis to conclude that there is consensus among qualified experts that those data and information establish that the substance is safe under the conditions of its intended use.
  • For a food additive, privately held data and information about the use of the substance are sent by the sponsor to FDA and FDA evaluates those data and information to determine whether they establish that the substance is safe under the conditions of its.

Throughout the remainder of this article, you will learn about the positive and negative sides of the story behind each of the FDA-approved nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners.

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