What are the Differences Between the Different Artificial Sweeteners?

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Although there are a number of different artificial sweeteners available, saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose are the most commonly used within the United States. They differ in their chemical makeup, degree of sweetness, and how they are best used.

Diet soda may contain aspartame.
Diet soda may contain aspartame.

Saccharin is the oldest artificial sweetener. It is commonly used to sweeten some diet soft drinks and candies, and to improve the flavor of medicine and toothpaste. At one point, there was concern that saccharin might be a possible carcinogen, meaning that it could cause cancer. In 2000, however, the U.S. National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences determined that the studies linking saccharin to cancer in laboratory rats were not applicable to humans.

Artificial sweeteners may be used in coffee.
Artificial sweeteners may be used in coffee.

Aspartame is sold under a number of different product names, and like saccharin, it is used to sweet diet soft drinks and candies. Although it is 180 times as sweet as sugar, it is not suitable for baking because it loses much of its sweetness when heated. Additionally, this artificial sweetener has a slower onset and longer taste duration than that of sugar. Many people consider this aftertaste to be a significant drawback to using aspartame.

Studies on laboratory rats linking saccharin to cancer are not applicable to humans.
Studies on laboratory rats linking saccharin to cancer are not applicable to humans.

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that is heat stable. It is made from real sugar, unlike many of the different artificial sweeteners commonly used. This makes it a great choice for baking cakes, cookies, and other sweet treats. The makers of this artificial sweeter caution that it may not work as well as expected in recipes where the function of the sugar is to enhance structure, texture, or volume; promote carmelization and browning; or act as a preservative for canned goods. In this case, the proportions of other ingredients in the recipe must be altered to achieve the desired results.

Some coffee drinkers prefer to sweeten their brew with stevia in lieu of artificial sweeteners.
Some coffee drinkers prefer to sweeten their brew with stevia in lieu of artificial sweeteners.

While artificial sweeteners can be a useful tool for people hoping to lose weight or manage their blood glucose levels, consumers should keep in mind that these substances should not be consumed in large quantities. In addition, the mere fact that artificial sweeteners are used in a product does not make the item low in calories or high in nutrients. A well-balanced diet, with a moderate amount of sweetened treats, is the best way to stay healthy.

Because it has less side effects than maltitol, erythritol may be used as a zero calorie sweetener in beverages.
Because it has less side effects than maltitol, erythritol may be used as a zero calorie sweetener in beverages.
When consumed in moderate amounts, artificial sweeteners can help diabetics regulate their blood sugar levels.
When consumed in moderate amounts, artificial sweeteners can help diabetics regulate their blood sugar levels.
Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the wiseGEEK team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

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Discussion Comments


Some of the most unhealthy people I have ever worked with drank diet soda by the quart. Skin problems, digestive problems, sleep problems were all present with these individuals. It's made in a lab folks, made in a lab.


Aspartame is safe to consume in moderation. As long as you don't down a six pack of soda per day, you shouldn't experience any weird side effects. That being said, everyone's body handles things differently, and certain health conditions may make tolerating aspartame difficult. It is really no different than those folks who can't stomach aspirin. Some people are just more sensitive. Too much of anything can be toxic, people.

As for Stevia, it is not approved by the FDA except for in a chemically altered form that is combined with erythritol; therefore, it is no more "natural" than any other sweetener out there. Don't believe the hype, one way or another. Do your research and make your decisions based upon what is best for you and your body.


Stevia is another artificial sweetener than is supposed to be more natural and better for you- however, it hasn't gained the same popularity, probably because of the cost. Stevia is actually a plant, and the sweetener is made from its leaves, making it more natural but also possibly more complicated to make in large amounts.


@snickerish- Some research I read suggested that the problem with drinking large amounts of diet soda is that while it has no calories in itself, it both gives you a craving for sugar, making you want sweeter food, and also has the same problem as regular soda in that it does not satisfy your appetite in any way.

That said, I drink diet soda too and think it's fine in reasonable doses- as in, no more than 2 or 3 a day (and even then I should probably have less).


@Eviemae- there are many people like that, and I have known some too. It does seem crazy, like they think the diet soda will somehow prevent them from getting overweight through the solid foods they eat.

Admittedly, I also will only drink diet soda, but I also avoid large amounts of sugar in my food as well.


@snickerish - I have heard that as well, that those artificial sweeteners as they are in diet soda are linked to weight gain.

What I gathered, and I am not diet or nutrition expert, was that the artificial sweeteners themselves do not directly cause weight gain. However, they found that drinking diet soda with the artificial sweeteners made you crave more food (and it may have even been a certain type of food like sugary foods or complex carbohydrates).

And I think the studies may have said that drinking diet soda made you crave more food because your body was expecting certain nutrients when it tasted the diet soda, and when it didn't get those nutrients it sends out those crave messages.

I was looking at artificial sweeteners as a substitute, and although have not found any direct links to cancer or direct links between artificial sweeteners to weight gain; I have to agree with @Eviemae, I will just be sticking with my real cream and my real sugar. The calories for me right now at my healthy weight are worth it!


I have read that artificial sweeteners and weight gain are linked, and I couldn't believe it!

First, I was told that I was supposed to drink my diet soda with artificial sweeteners as a substitute for my high calorie regular soda or soft drink (as we say in my family). This was to save me all those "empty" calories, and lose weight, now I am told this suggestion was incorrect?

I drink diet soda daily so I thought I'd investigate. Does anyone know what this link between artificial sweeteners and weight gain is?


Okay, what I’m about to say might not be very nice, but I just have to get it off my chest.

I married into a family that really loves to eat. And when I say eat, I mean I’ve seen some of them wolf down a whole box of Little Debbie cakes at one time. Now I love Little Debbie as good as the next person, but only in moderation.

Where I might have a sandwich and a couple of chips for lunch, these folks will have the big bag of chips and three sandwiches; and this is the part that gets me. They refuse to drink anything except diet soda.

Now, why go with the artificial sweeteners, which are often said to be just as bad for you as sugar, when you are eating all of that other stuff, too? I mean, do they really think Little Debbie is sugarless?

I absolutely don’t get it. And yet, they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind when I put cream and sugar in my coffee!


I have always heard that artificial sweeteners were not good for you, but folks are also always pushing them instead of sugar.

I personally hardly ever purchase sodas or anything like that unless I’m out and about. The only time I buy them for my actual home is when we are going to be having a get together or party so I just always get the real deal. However, I drink tons of coffee.

I know that isn’t supposed to be good for you either, but I suppose it is my biggest vice. And if you ask me, in the grand scheme of things, that is a pretty good vice to be dealing with.

I noticed though that I was putting on some extra weight around the middle, and started to wonder if it was from the sugar I was using in my coffee since I never drank soda. So, I decided to try Splenda (it was on sale).

I lost five pounds in a matter of a couple of weeks. Next time, I tried Equal because it was on sale. I like the taste of Splenda the best, but Equal is a little less pricey even when it's regular price. As far as the after taste, I guess I haven't noticed one because coffee leaves a strong after taste, too.


@SZapper - I've used Stevia before and it was all right. I prefer to just use sugar though. I feel like if used sparingly, sugar is way better for you than these artificial sweeteners.


Instead of using an artificial sweetener like aspartame, I prefer to use Stevia. Stevia is a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners and sugar that doesn't have much effect on blood sugar. It also tastes quite good and doesn't have any of the harmful effects of aspartame.


@lonelygod - Aspartame makes a lot of people feel ill and is actually well-known for causing a variety of symptoms in people who consume a lot of diet drinks regularly.

I am pretty sure that using any other different artificial sweetener would be better than aspartame because it has known to cause numerous problems such as headaches, confusion, high blood pressure, and weight gain just to name a few things. If you look at a list of side effects for aspartame you'd probably shocked at all the problems it causes

My suggestion is that if you want to stop your stomach issues just to drink regular cola in small doses, as a treat, or drop cola all together.


Does anyone else have trouble with digesting aspartame? Can anyone suggest some colas that don't use aspartame to sweeten his or her drinks?

I love my sugar free drinks buy find most of them are sweetened with aspartame, which can be a big problem because it seems to give me stomach cramps. I also find aspartame has a bit of a chemical taste to it when I drink too much diet soda. It really makes me nauseated and makes me feel really off.

I have read that aspartame can be quite dangerous for human consumption but I am not really sure if that is true or not. I just know I would like to find some better options.

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