Which Artificial Sweetener Is Right For You?

We help you weigh the pros and cons

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Honestly, who doesn't have a sweet tooth? We are born that way -- liking the taste sensation of sweetness. We have scores of taste buds dedicated only to tasting sweetness.

And boy, do we like our sugar. Within a year's time, Americans basically eat their weight in sugar. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2002 the average American consumed 146 pounds of sugar (including sugar, corn sweeteners, honey, and syrups).

Most of us who are trying to keep extra pounds off want to have our cake and eat it, too: We want the sweetness of sugar but without the calories. The way I see it, if we are trying to cut calories from sugar, we have a couple of options:

  • Option 1: We can decrease the amount of sugar we eat by enjoying smaller portions of sugar-laden food and drinks and by adding less sugar when we prepare sweet items.
  • Option 2: We can turn to artificial sweeteners.

Lots of us are going for Option 2. The amount of artificially sweetened products consumed by Americans has doubled in just 10 years. Artificial sweeteners come in handy if you are trying to reduce your calories from sugar, if you have diabetes and are trying to maintain normal blood sugar -- and if you happen to like the taste of diet soda because regular soda is too darn sweet.

I'm in this last group. I simply do not like the taste of regular soda, so I enjoy one can of diet cola (caffeine free) a day -- usually in the afternoon.

But Can They Really Help With Weight Loss?

According to a recent study by Dutch researchers, artificial sweeteners may have a pivotal role in our weight loss (or weight maintenance) plans! After reviewing many recent studies, they noted that:

  • The use of aspartame was linked to better weight maintenance.
  • When artificially sweetened beverages were substituted for regular, sweetened beverages (and total calories were not restricted), people ended up eating fewer calories and weighing less.

A Harvard Medical School study reported similar results in 1997. Researchers told obese women to either consume aspartame-sweetened foods or eliminate them for 16 weeks of a weight-reduction program. What happened? The women who were consuming the artificial sweetener lost significantly more weight and regained significantly less weight during the maintenance and follow-up phase.

Which One Is Right for You?

With so many artificial sweeteners out there these days, how do you know which one to buy? Here's how they differ, and the pros and cons of each type.

Sucralose (Splenda)

Splenda contains the artificial sweetener sucralose along with maltodextrin, which adds bulk so Splenda can be substituted cup-for-cup for sugar in recipes. Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar. To make sucralose, they take a cane sugar molecule and substitute three hydrogen-oxygen groups with three chlorine atoms.

Baking tip: After experimenting with Splenda in recipes, I have found the results are usually successful when I use half sugar and half Splenda.


  • Sucralose has no calories, is not considered a carbohydrate by the body, and has no effect on blood sugar levels.
  • You can bake with Splenda. Heat doesn't lessen the sweet taste.
  • When it comes to baking and cooking, Splenda appears to be the best sweetener for the job.
  • Of all the artificial sweeteners, Splenda has caused the least controversy from watchdog or consumer groups.
  • After more than 110 studies, the FDA concluded sucralose was found to have no toxic or carcinogenic effects and to pose no reproductive or neurologic risk to humans.


  • The bulking agents used in Splenda can add around 12 calories per tablespoon of the mixture (although the package does not list these calories).
  • Splenda can change the texture in baking recipes and can add an ''artificial'' taste when used as the only sweetener in the recipe.
  • Some critics claim that preliminary animal research has linked Splenda to organ damage.

Saccharin (Sweet'N Low)

Saccharin, which is 300 times sweeter than sugar, is an organic molecule made from petroleum.


  • Heat doesn't affect its sweetness.
  • After bladder cancer was found in male lab rats that were fed huge amounts of saccharin, the FDA proposed a ban on saccharin in 1977. But no ban was enacted, and the warning label on saccharin was dropped in 2000.

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