Sweeteners in tea

2 May 2024

Eating for Health: Sweeteners

Sweeteners are natural or artificial substances that provide a sweet taste in many foods and beverages. 

Types of sweeteners:

  • Nutritive: Provides Energy
  • Non-nutritive: Provides minimal energy
  • Natural: Naturally derived from plants
  • Artificial: Synthetic sugar substitutes 

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic types of sugar substitutes that can be used instead of cane sugar. They are chemicals added to some foods and beverages to make them taste sweet and are often lower in or have no calories. They are found in foods such as fizzy drinks, desserts, ready meals, cakes, chewing gum and toothpaste.

All artificial sweeteners used in the UK undergo rigorous safety assessment before used in food and drink. The law determines how much sweetener can be used in which product.

Different types of artificial sweeteners licenced for use in the UK: 

  • Aspartame: used in Canderel and sugar-free products. Found in diet-drinks, chewing gums and some yoghurts. 
  • Saccharin: used in mini sweeteners. 
  • Sucralose: low calorie artificial sweetener used to add flavour to the food. Hence used in sweets, jams, jellies and cookies. 
  • Acesulfame K: used in zero or zero-sugar beverages.   
  • Cyclamate: white crystalline powders with intensely sweet tastes. They are used in baked goods, confections and desserts. 


But are they good for us?

Potential benefits:
  • Diabetes friendly: Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners do not cause blood sugar spikes, which suggests they may be healthier for people with diabetes.
  • Promotes weight loss: Since they have little to no calories, artificial sweeteners are viewed as the preferred option for people who want to lose weight or maintain a healthier weight.
  • Reduces hunger: Artificial sweeteners are believed to suppress hunger and appetite and reduce sugar cravings.
Potential limitations:
  • Carcinogen: There have been several reports that the use of artificial sweeteners is linked to health issues such as cancer, however, evidence for this is limited and Cancer Research UK has stated that sweeteners do not cause cancer.
  • Laxative effects: Some sweeteners (polyols such as sorbitol, xylitol and erythritol) may have a laxative effect if consumed in large amounts (>10%).
  • Weight gain: a study released in 2023 found clear evidence that habitual, long-term consumption of aspartame, saccharin and diet beverages increases body fat, regardless of how much a person eats or the quality of their diet. Still research is limited in this area.
  • Digestive issues: Some research suggests that artificial sweeteners alter the composition of our gut microbiome (our friendly bacteria) and are linked to gastrointestinal discomfort, bloating, diarrhoea obesity and inflammatory bowel diseases.
Healthier Options:
  • Honey: a thick, sweet golden liquid made by bees from flowering plants.
  • Maple syrup: a sticky syrup that comes from boiling down the sap from maple trees.
  • Dates: soft and chewy fruits that are nature’s candy.
  • Coconut sugar: a tropical sweetener made by broiling down and dehydrating the sap of coconut palm flowers.
  • Stevia: a plant-based sweetener that is calorie-free and does not raise blood sugar levels.

It is important to note that lower calorie and no calorie sweeteners do not necessarily make a food or drink healthy but can be useful in reducing your sugar intake. Although these sweeteners are FDA approved, they should still be consumed in moderation according to guidelines. The best strategy for achieving optimal health is learning to enjoy foods in their unsweetened state. It is important for individuals to weight the benefits and risks or artificial sweeteners and carefully decide what is right for them.