Sweet Options

Perhaps no ingredient has been scrutinized by researchers as much as intense sweeteners. Before being used in food—or as a tabletop sweetener— they're first tested extensively to meet the guidelines and safety standards of the FDA. That includes assigning Acceptable Daily Intakes (ADIs).

Currently in the United States, six intense sweeteners have been approved: acesulfame potassium, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, and taga-lose. But watch for news about others. Approval from the FDA is being sought for alitame and cyclamate. If you travel abroad, you may hear of stevioside or thaumatin, too.

Acesulfame Potassium

Acesulfame potassium (or acesulfame K) entered the food world in 1967. Approved for use in the United States in 1988, acesulfame potassium is marketed under the brand name Sunette.

A white, odorless, crystalline sweetener, this intense sweetener provides no calories. Like saccharin, acesulfame potassium can't be broken down by the body, and it's eliminated in the urine unchanged. Again, no calories, and a potential benefit for people with diabetes.

Acesulfame potassium is 200 times sweeter than table sugar, adding its sweet taste to candies, baked goods, desserts, noncarbonated drinks, dairy products, sauces, alcoholic drinks, and tabletop sweeteners, such as Sweet One and Swiss Sweet. By itself in some foods, a high concentration of acesulfame potassium may leave a slight aftertaste. So it's often combined with other sweeteners, both traditional and intense.

Cooking tip: Because acesulfame potassium is heat stable, you can use it in cooked and baked foods. Like saccharin, it gives no bulk, or volume, as sugar does, so it may not work in some recipes. Refer to "Cooking with Intense Sweeteners."


Aspartame is also about 200 times sweeter than table sugar. Discovered in 1965 and approved by the FDA in 1981, aspartame was first marketed as NutraSweet and sold as the tabletop sweetener Equal. Aspartame is now available in a variety of tabletop sweeteners.

Aspartame isn't sugar. Instead it's a combination of two amino acids—aspartic acid and the methyl ester of phenylalanine. While amino acids are the building blocks of protein, aspartic acid and phenylalanine are joined in a way that's perceived as sweet in your mouth. These same two amino acids are also found naturally in common foods such as meat, fat-free milk, fruit, and vegetables. When digested, your body treats them like any other amino acid in food.

Like other protein, aspartame actually has 4 calories per gram. However, so little is used that the calorie impact on the diet is negligible.

Because aspartame contains phenylalanine, people with phenylketonuria (PKU) need to be cautious

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