Zero-calorie sweeteners, which are also called "non-nutritive sweeteners," add sweet flavor to foods and beverages without adding any calories. But they don't add any nutritional value either. Diet beverages and sugar-free snacks are usually sweetened with aspartame or sucralose. You can also find zero-calorie sweeteners in little pink, blue or yellow packets in most restaurants and coffee shops.
Artificial sweeteners are controversial and there are concerns about the safety of using these products. Stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener that's not created artificially - it's extracted from a plant. Here's a list of the most common zero-calorie sweeteners with links to full articles that explore the background and safety issues.
Saccharin is the oldest of the artificial sweeteners. It's not as popular as it used to be, but it's still found in some foods and in little pink packets of Sweet'N Low. Since the 1970s, foods sweetened with saccharin had to carry a label that warned about cancer risk in rats, but that requirement was discontinued when the United States Food and Drug Administration determined that it was safe for human use. Learn more about saccharin
Aspartame has replaced saccharin in popularity because it doesn't have the same strong bitter aftertaste. Some people worry that aspartame may be bad for your health, but so far the only scientifically validated problems are potential for being a migraine trigger, and it can't be used by people who have phenylketonuria. They have problems with one of the amino acids left after aspartame digestion
. You can find aspartame in most diet sodas and in the little blue packets of Equal. Learn more about aspartame
Sucralose is similar in structure to table sugar because it's made by chemically altering sugar molecules. That simple alteration makes it difficult for your body to absorb much of it so it passes through your digestive system unchanged. Sucralose is increasing in popularity because it tastes sweet without the bitterness found in other artificial sweeteners. Sucralose is in those little yellow packets of Splenda. Learn more about sucralose
Neotame is fairly new compared to the other artificial sweeteners so it's not as well-known. It's similar to aspartame, but much sweeter, so even less of it is needed to sweeten foods and beverages. Neotame may become a popular artificial sweetener and flavor enhancer for soft drinks and chewing gum. Learn more about neotame
Like neotame, Acesulfame-K is not as well-known as the other zero-calorie sweeteners, but you may find it listed on the ingredients portion of the Nutrition Facts labels
for a few diet foods. The "K" stands for potassium, which is a dietary mineral normally found in fruits and vegetables. You only use acesulfame-K in very small amounts, so it's not going to be enough to add any meaningful amounts of potassium to your diet. The United States Food and Drug Administration considers acesulfame-K to be safe. Learn more about acesulfame-K
Stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener made from a component of the Stevia rebaudiana
plant. It's only recently been approved for use as a sweetener in the United States, but it's been commercially available as a dietary supplement
for years. Stevia has also been used safely in other countries for several decades. You may see it on the ingredients list of certain diet foods or you may purchase it in powdered form so you can add it to foods at home. Learn more about stevia