A spoon full of sugar | Munchwize Dietitians East London

While calorie-free sweeteners may help satisfy our sweet tooth (without the extra calories or possible increased risk of Coronary heart disease that comes with sugar), we can often get confused by negative headlines.

Let’s firstly look at the difference between nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners:

Nutritive sweetener:

  • Contain carbohydrates and this is the main source of energy. They provide little nutritional value beyond the calories they provide.
  • Divided into 2 groups: naturally occurring sugars (e.g. found in fruit, dairy etc) and added sugar (e.g. sucrose which is our white table sugar)
  • They provide taste and add texture to baked goods,
  • The metabolism of all sugars follows a similar pathway with glucose being the end result.
  • Are added sugars really that unhealthy for me? Experts agree on this one, and the answer is yes, in significant quantities added sugars are not good for us. They Pose a health risk if used in excess or in place of other nutrient-dense foods.
  • To avoid added sugars we need to make sure that we read food labels.


Non-nutritive sweeteners:

  • Provide little or no energy and generally do not increase blood sugar levels.
  • They do not contain carbohydrates and do not promote tooth decay.
  •  Aka low-calorie sweeteners, artificial sweeteners
  • Are often much sweeter than sugar


Are non nutritive sweeteners safe?
The majority of non-nutritive sweeteners have been thoroughly researched. Some more than certain drugs or food additives currently on the market. In 2009 there were more than 200 toxicological and clinical studies conducted over 30 years on aspartame alone.

Are non-nutritive sweeteners healthy?

The ADA suggests that non-nutritive sweeteners may assist in weight management, blood glucose control, and preventing cavities. Research suggests that we stand to benefit from lower overall energy intake and better blood glucose control, reduced risk of heart disease if we replace calorie-rich beverages and food with low-calorie alternatives.

A multitude of studies have attempted to assess whether non-nutritive sweeteners can suppress appetite as a means of lowering food intake, with little positive outcome, but some have demonstrated that using beverages with non-nutritive sweeteners in place of sugar-sweetened beverages can meet the desire for sweet taste while reducing calorie intake. But most studies have been observational studies and therefore more controlled studies need to be done for a more clear guideline on non-nutritive sweeteners role in weight management.


Some of the non-nutritive sweeteners currently approved for use in the US are:


  • Is a combination of an organic acid and potassium.
  • 200 X sweeter than sucrose.
  • Approved in 1988 for use in food products and as a tabletop sweetener.
  • Thoroughly tested in animal studies using amounts that significantly exceed those anyone could consume. The results showed no evidence of tumors/cancer.


  • A combination of the amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid.
  • 160 – 220  X sweeter than sucrose.
  • Foods containing aspartame must carry a warning stating that it contains phenylalanine for those with the rare disorder phenylketonuria.
  • FDA first approved its usage in 1981 and it was approved as a general-usage sweetener in 1996.
  • It has been tested extensively due to its long history and questions related to tumor development. In 1996, a report raised questions about its connection to brain tumors. Following this, an extensive review of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) data showed that the overall incidence of brain tumors started to increase in 1973, before aspartame was available for consumption, and continued until 1985. The NCI declared that there was no link between aspartame and brain tumor development.

Luo han guo

  • Often referred to as monk fruit extract.
  • 150 – 300X sweeter than sucrose.
  • Received FDA approval in 2009.


  • Is a combination of the amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid
  • 7,000 – 13,000X sweeter than sucrose.
  • The high intensity of sweetness means that it contains very little phenylalanine and  therefore it doesn’t require a warning label.
  • FDA approval in 2002 as a general-use sweetener
  • Used in very few foods.


  • Is a soluble sodium salt not metabolized by the body, therefore providing no calories.
  • 300 X sweeter than sugar.
  • Its safety was challenged in 1977 because of studies showing it caused tumors in rats. At the time, it was the only artificial sweetener on the market. Subsequent studies have shown no link between saccharin and cancer in humans.
  • It is often is combined with other non-nutritive sweeteners to improve the flavor


  • This starts off as a regular old sugar molecule, but then 3 hydroxyl groups are removed and replaced with chlorine.
  • Can’t be absorbed by the body and is excreted unchanged.
  • 600 X sweeter than sugar
  • Approved in 1998 for use in 15 foods and beverages and then received approval as a general-purpose sweetener in 1999.
  • It is heat stable.


While the love of sweetness is a basic biological taste, sugar has been in the news during the past several years because of the growing problem of overweight and obesity. As the consumption of foods with added sugar increases, so has the hypothesis that added sugars are linked to the overweight and obesity problem.

The final important few things to remember are again, moderation. Too much of anything is never a good idea. It is also important to not take the first search hit in google as the be all and end all. Search for information on reputable sites or speak to your Dietitian about health and nutrition related topics.


Did you find this information interesting? Why not have a read through our blog on natural sweetners: Natural does not always mean healthy

Munchwize Dietitians are based in Claremont, Cape Town. Contact us here.








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