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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Saccharin: What are the pros?

Saccharin has been around for over 100 years and claims to be the "best researched sweetener." It was discovered when a researchers was working on coal tar derivatives. Saccharin is also known as Sweet and Low, Sweet Twin, Sweet'N Low, and Necta Sweet. It does not contain any calories, does not raise blood sugar levels, and its sweetness is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). It has a bitter aftertaste.

The FDA's guidelines on the use of saccharin for beverages are not to exceed 12 mg/fluid ounce, and in processed food, the amount is not to exceed 30 mg per serving. The acceptable daily intake (ADI) for saccharin is 5 mg/kg of body weight. To determine your ADI, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 and then multiply it by 5. For example, if you weighed 180 lbs., your weight in kg would be 82 (180 divided by 2.2) and your ADI for saccharin would be 410 mg (5 x 82). Saccharin is used in tabletop sweeteners, baked goods, jams, chewing gum, canned fruit, candy, dessert toppings, and salad dressings. It also is used in cosmetic products, vitamins, and pharmaceuticals.

In 1977, research showed bladder tumors in male rats with the ingestion of saccharin. The FDA proposed a ban on saccharin based on the Delaney Clause of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act enacted in 1958. This clause prohibits the addition to the human food supply of any chemical that had caused cancer in humans or animals. Congress intervened after public opposition to the ban. This was the only artificial sweetener available at that time and the public did not want to lose the diet products that contained it. Congress allowed saccharin to remain in the food supply as long as the label carried this warning: "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals." Further research was required to confirm the tumor findings.

Since then, more than 30 human studies have been completed and found that the results found in rats did not translate to humans, making saccharin safe for human consumption. The reason for this may be that the original study gave the rats an amount that was hundreds of times higher than "normal" ingestion for humans. In 2000, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) of the National Institutes of Health concluded that saccharin should be removed from the list of potential carcinogens. The warning has now been removed from saccharin-containing products. Out of the five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners, saccharin is often chosen to be the safest.

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