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Comparing Sugar Substitutes

Topic Overview

What are sugar substitutes?

Sugar substitutes can be used instead of sugar to sweeten foods and drinks. You can add them to drinks like coffee or iced tea. They are also found in many foods sold in grocery stores. Sugar substitutes include artificial sweeteners and intense sweeteners. These sweeteners are made from chemicals and natural substances.

Sugar substitutes have very few calories compared to sugar. Some have no calories. Many people use sugar substitutes as a way to limit how much sugar they eat. They may be limiting sugar to lose weight, control blood sugar, or avoid getting cavities in their teeth.

The most common sugar substitutes are:

  • Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K, Sunett). It's in many diet foods and drinks.
  • Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet). It's mostly used to sweeten diet soft drinks.
  • Cyclamate (Sucaryl, Sugar Twin, Sweet 'N Low). Cyclamate is sold as a sweetener in packet, tablet, liquid, and granulated form. Health Canada does not allow food manufacturers to sell foods or beverages that contain cyclamate.
  • Saccharin (Hermesetas). Saccharin is available from pharmacies in tablet or powder form. It may also be added to foods or drinks.
  • Stevia (Truvia, Pure Via). Stevia is made from a herbal plant and is used in foods and drinks.
  • Sucralose (Splenda). It's in many diet foods and drinks.

Sugar alcohols are also used to sweeten diet foods and drinks. These plant-based products include mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. If you eat too much of them, sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea and bloating.

If your goal is to lose weight, keep in mind that a food can be sugar-free but still have carbohydrate, fats, and calories. It's a good idea to read the nutrition label to check for calories and carbohydrate.

Are sugar substitutes safe?

Yes, sugar substitutes are safe for most people. Health Canada regulates the use of sugar substitutes. At one time, saccharin was thought to increase the risk of bladder cancer in animals. Studies have found no clear evidence of a link between saccharin and cancer in humans.

People who have phenylketonuria (PKU) should avoid foods and drinks that have aspartame, which contains phenylalanine.footnote 1

Are sugar substitutes safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding?

A nutrient-rich diet is important for both you and your baby when you are pregnant or breastfeeding. And it's not a good idea to diet when you are breastfeeding. It's fine to have a diet drink or foods made with sugar substitutes now and then. But be sure they don't take the place of the nutrient-rich foods you need while you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

The following sugar substitutes are considered safe to use in moderation during pregnancy and breastfeeding:

  • Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K, Sunett)
  • Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
  • Cyclamate (Sucaryl, Sugar Twin, Sweet 'N Low)
  • Saccharin (Hermesetas)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Stevia (Truvia, Pure Via)

It is not clear whether cyclamate (Sucaryl, Sugar Twin, Sweet 'N Low) is safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It may be best to avoid it.

Saccharin (Hermesetas) is deemed safe by Health Canada for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding when used in moderation.footnote 2 But you may want to check with your doctor before you use it. Some pregnant women choose to avoid saccharin because it has been shown to cross the placenta to the fetus.

Do sugar substitutes raise blood sugar?

Most sugar substitutes provide no energy, so they won't affect your blood sugar. But that's not true of sugar alcohols. They don't cause sudden spikes in blood sugar, but the carbohydrate in them can affect your blood sugar.

If you have diabetes, read food labels carefully to find out the amount of carbohydrate in each serving of food containing sugar alcohol. It's also a good idea to test your blood sugar after you eat foods with sugar alcohols or sugar substitutes so you can find out how these foods affect your blood sugar.

Related Information



  1. Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2013). The carbohydrates: Sugars, starches, and fibers. In Understanding Nutrition, 13th ed., pp. 94–123. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  2. Health Canada (2007). Food and nutrition: Questions and answers: Saccharin. Health Canada. Accessed July 28, 2014.


Current as of: December 17, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Colleen O'Connor PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian

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