What are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are used in everything from food additives to tabletop sweeteners. When they're used as a food additive, they contribute a sweet taste to foods without adding calories or added sugar levels. When they're used in a tabletop sweetener, they appear in the form of packets, powders, or liquids that consumers add to food and drinks at home or in restaurants. These tabletop sweeteners generally contain a bulking agent as the artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar; the goal of the tabletop sweeteners is to replace the sweetness of sugar 1:1.
Unlike sugar alcohols, which come from natural sources, artificial sweeteners are a type of synthetic sugar substitute created by combining components in a lab. Sugar alcohols usually contribute some calories to food . Artificial or synthetic sweeteners are also known as non-nutritive or low-calorie sweeteners because they do not contribute calories to food.
As with natural low or no-calorie alternatives to nutritive sweeteners, synthetic products are popular for use in foods with reduced calories. Reduced calorie foods that frequently use these sweeteners include diet sodas, sugar-free drinks, reduced-calorie ice creams, and similar diet-friendly products.
The most significant difference between synthetic sweeteners and other sugar replacements is the amount needed. Most synthetic products are high-intensity sweeteners, meaning they are many times sweeter than sugar. To achieve the desired level of sweetness, you need much smaller amounts of these sweeteners, compared to sugar. Sugar alcohols are as flavorful or slightly less sweet than sugar, requiring larger amounts to achieve the same result.
Numerous studies back the safety of these sweeteners. Thanks to the hundreds of studies supporting various non-nutritive sweeteners, the Food and Drug Administration has approved these products for use in many foods. However, sweeteners like advantame and neotame have not received approval for use in meat and poultry products because the manufacturers did not intend for their products to have these uses.