Sugar Substitutes: How Much is too Much?

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
Sugar Substitutes

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, states that sugar substitutes, or high-intensity sweeteners, including acesulfame-K, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, advantame and sucralose are safe to consume in the amounts that people typically eat or drink. But just how much is acceptable and safe for human consumption?

Understanding the Acceptable Daily Intake for Sugar Substitutes

Regulatory agencies set Acceptable Daily Intake, or ADI, levels for each sugar substitute. The ADI is the maximum amount of a food additive that can be safely consumed on a daily basis over a person's lifetime without any adverse effects. The ADI and the amount equivalent to it will vary depending on a person's weight and the high-intensity sweetener.

To get an idea of how much of a sugar substitute may be consumed without adverse effects, consider the following. A 132-pound person would need to consume these amounts in order to reach the ADI:

  • 23 packets of sweetener containing sucralose.
  • 45 packets of sweetener containing saccharin.
  • 75 packets of sweetener containing aspartame.

Analyzing Components of a Sugar Substitute

Foods may naturally contain the same substances as a sugar substitute, and sometimes in greater quantities than the high-intensity sweetener itself. For example: A serving of non-fat milk provides almost six to nine times more of the amino acid phenylalanine and 13 times more aspartic acid than the same amount of beverage sweetened with aspartame. A serving of tomato juice provides almost four to six times more methanol than the same amount of beverage sweetened with aspartame.

Bottom Line

Sugar substitutes are widely consumed and are present in a variety of products ranging from grains and dairy products, such as in some breads and yogurts, to soft-drinks and condiments. Surveys conducted in the United States have indicated that as many as 25% of children (aged two years and older) and more than 40% of adults interviewed consume high-intensity sweeteners, according to a study published in 2017. And the majority included them on a daily basis – showing how common sugar substitutes are in the American diet.

High-intensity sweeteners are one way to reduce calories from added sugars, and FDA guidance and current research support their safety when consumed at levels within the Acceptable Daily Intake.

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