Non-nutritive sweeteners are sweeteners that do not provide calories and have no additional nutritional value, specifically no carbohydrates. Nutritive sweeteners are sweeteners that provide calories, specifically carbohydrates in the form of sugar. All artificial sweeteners, which are synthetically made as opposed to naturally grown, are non-nutritive sweeteners. There are 6 non-nutritive sweeteners approved by the FDA, meaning they are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS).
The FDA currently approves 5 non-nutritive artificial sweeteners:
Cyclamate was banned in the U.S. in 1969, but is approved in the EU & in over 100 countries.
Alitame is not FDA approved, but it is in Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, China, & the EU.
Neohesperidin dihydrochalcone (NHDC) is approved in the EU but not by the FDA.
The FDA currently approves 1 non-nutritive natural sweetener
Thaumatin is not FDA-approved but has GRAS status & is approved in Japan, Canada & the EU.
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) has stated that, “consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners when consumed in a diet that is guided by current federal nutrition recommendations, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Dietary References Intakes, as well as individual health goals.”
Adding non-nutritive sweeteners to foods and beverages provides a taste similar to table sugar (sucrose), and they are generally several hundred to several thousand times sweeter. Thus, minimal amounts of these sweeteners are needed which results in a negligible amount of added calories. Diet beverages, light yogurt, and sugar-free pudding are examples of foods and beverages that reduced or completely eliminated sugar calories by using non-nutritive sweeteners. Products with sugar-free labels are most likely containing non-nutritive sweeteners, such as sugar-free gum, syrup, popcorn, cereal, and snack bars.
“The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) must be determined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prior to approval for any food ingredient, including low-calorie sweeteners, for use in foods and beverages in the U.S. The ADI is the amount of an ingredient that a person can safely consume every day over a lifetime without risk. The ADI is set at one one-hundredth of the amount that has been found not to produce any adverse health effects in key animal studies. […]. […], current intake of each low-calorie sweetener is well below the ADI.” Source
It is becoming common knowledge that excess carbohydrates, predominately excess sugar, leads to obesity and other health problems. Dieters and health advocates may use non-nutritive sweeteners to reduce overall caloric and carbohydrate intake. Diabetics may use non-nutritive sweeteners to help control their insulin levels. To many, non-nutritive sweeteners are a life saver. The other side of the coin involves the health risks that may be associated with synthetic chemicals. All 6 non-nutritive sweeteners are subject to health concerns and have led to many question marks even though exceeding the ADI does not seem realistically possible. The notion to avoid all artificial sweeteners is popular among health conscious people. The idea is to remove nutritive-sweetened foods and beverages from a diet instead of replacing them with non-nutritive-sweetened foods and beverages.
Arguments have also been made that non-nutritive sweeteners condition the body to respond to sugar and crave sugary products more often. At the end of the day, non-nutritive sweeteners fill a void in today’s dietary demands and are not likely to disappear anytime soon. The real question is deciding which sweetener should be used, if any. Most concern takes place with the two oldest approved artificial sweeteners Saccharin and Aspartame, yet there is no proof of health issues. Stevia is said to be an appropriate aspartame replacement and may leave many consumers at ease with a natural sweetener.