Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?

A look at the evidence

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Contributor: Mira Ilic, RD, LD

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Healthy people who are not replacing healthful, nutrient-dense foods with sweets have room for a reasonable amount of nutritive sweeteners (like sugar and honey) in their diet.

For people who choose non-nutritive (zero- or very low-calorie) artificial sweeteners, the following are approved for safety by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Each has an acceptable daily intake as established by FDA, set at 100 times less than the amount that may raise health concerns:

  • Sucralose (Splenda®)
  • Aspartame  (Equal®, NutraSweet®, Sugar Twin®)
  • Saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low®)

The FDA reviewed more than 100 safety studies conducted on each of these sweeteners.

Mixed reviews by consumers

Sentiments have always been mixed about artificial sweeteners. However, there is no clear scientific evidence that artificial sweeteners are not safe. Even the warning label on saccharin was dropped because of more recent studies.

Critics claim that aspartame causes a number of health problems, from cancer to neurological disorders. Questions were raised about aspartame’s safety in a 2005 study because rats that were fed very high doses of aspartame developed more lymphomas and leukemia. However, the findings of that study were found to be inconsistent.

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Aspartame: Not for those with PKU

One caveat is that aspartame should not be used by any people with PKU (phenylketonuria), a genetic disorder. People with PKU need to keep their blood phenylalanine levels low to prevent mental retardation, and neurological and behavioral problems.

If you think that you are sensitive to aspartame or if you have experienced negative effects from consuming products sweetened with aspartame or any other artificial sweetener, talk to your doctor.

Remember that there are many other sweeteners to choose from. These include two non-nutritive sweeteners derived from natural sources, stevia (Truvia® and PureVia®) and monk fruit extract (Nutreese®).

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