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Supportive and non-judgmental advice from SBCHC's health experts.

Artificial Sweeteners: Simply Sweet or Surely Unsafe?

By: Alyssa Principe

As a dietitian I am frequently asked, “are artificial sweeteners safe to use?”. It feels like nutrition research is constantly changing, so I understand the confusion. People choose to use artificial sweeteners for various reasons including diabetes or weight loss but most share the same concern about safety. Here, I’ll break down what we know and my recommendation on using artificial sweeteners.

What Are Artificial Sweeteners?

There are so many types, but you may see these at your local coffee shop:


Aspartame = NutraSweet, Equal (blue packet)

Saccharin = Sweet’N Low (pink packet)

Sucralose = Splenda (yellow packet)


Artificial sweeteners provide little to no calories, and may taste up to 200 times sweeter than sugar! Despite this, you may notice some have a bitter aftertaste. Aside from individual packets, you may find these artificial sweeteners in “diet” or “sugar free” drinks and foods like soda, candy, desserts and jams. You may also commonly see sugar alcohols on these labels like sorbitol, xylitol and erythritol, which have 50% fewer calories than sugar.

The Big Question: Are They Safe?

Artificial sweeteners are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the US Food & Drug Administration. This means that when consumed as part of a healthy diet artificial sweeteners can be consumed as you would regular sugar. It is not true that these sweeteners cause cancer, this myth started from one exaggerated study on rats, not people.

Effectiveness of Artificial Sweeteners:

Diabetes: Swapping out table sugar for an artificial sweetener can help people with diabetes reduce added sugar in their diet. Since artificial sweeteners do NOT raise blood sugar levels. You may find that artificial sweeteners can help control blood sugar

Weight Management: A popular reason people turn to artificial sweeteners is to cut calories. Although some research suggests that replacing sugary foods and drinks with artificially sweetened versions may help with weight loss, this is only in conjunction with other diet and exercise changes. Research is ongoing, but so far swapping artificial sweeteners alone isn’t the answer

Bottom line:

Artificial sweeteners are safe to consume as you would regular sugar. This should be a small component of a healthy diet which emphasizes eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins while reducing processed foods and added sugars. Based on current scientific evidence, artificial sweeteners are safe to consume as you would regular sugar– consume in moderation.

Here are some ways to reduce sugar intake without relying on artificial sweeteners:

Add lemon or fruit to water for added flavor without the sugar
Sprinkle cinnamon or vanilla extract to unsweetened oatmeal or yogurts
Enjoy naturally sweet berries or fruit with meals and snacks

Alyssa Principe

Alyssa Principe, MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietician at South Boston Community Health Center. She runs the free Healthy Habits Support Group and sees patients of all ages at the Health Center. She works with patients of all ages on a variety of goals, from healthy and weight issues, to picky eating. If you're interested in learning more stay tuned for her recipes and helpful tips or make an appointment to see her in clinic today!