Low Calorie Sweeteners in a Heart Healthy Diet

low calorie sweetenersThe 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a reduced intake of added sugars to less than 10% of total daily calories. If you consume a 2000 calorie diet, this is equal to less than 12.5 teaspoons of added sugar. The average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons of daily.

The guidelines noted available scientific evidence finds FDA-approved no calorie sweeteners to be safe for the general population and an option for reducing added sugar intake.

In order for a low calorie sweetener to be identified as safe for the general population, it must undergo a wide range of tests to determine adverse effects at any dose during different stages of the life cycle. The level connected to an adverse effect must be identified to then define an amount that is without effect.

Whether or not a sweetener is approved for use in food products and beverages it must be proven safe for pregnant women and children.

The following low calorie sweeteners have been approved as safe:


Low calorie sweeteners have been controversial with concerns about connections to weight gain, increased sweet cravings, and altered gut flora.

A lot of the controversy has been spurred by associations in observational studies being misinterpreted, inappropriate data extrapolations from research, and/or experimental protocol not being physiologically relevant.

The use of low calorie sweeteners is supported by those who have successfully maintained weight loss. In a survey of 434 National Weight Control Registry members, who lost equal to or greater than 13.6 kilograms (29.2 pounds) and maintained the loss for over one year:

  • 53% regularly consumed low calorie sweetened beverages
  • 78% say diet beverages help them control total calories

Now this probably brings up the concern of: Use of sweet, yet non-caloric low calorie sweeteners, might confuse the body, provoke increased appetite for sweet foods, reduce overall diet quality and contribute to weight gain.

This concern was addressed in a 2014 study of over 22,000 adults. The study compared overall diet quality between those who used low calorie sweeteners and those who did not. Those using low calorie sweeteners were shown to have BETTER diets. This is linked to those using low calorie sweeteners being more likely to try to manage their weight.

Low calorie sweeteners do have a place within a healthy diet.

Approved by the FDA in 1983, aspartame is a molecule consisting of two amino acids – phenylalanine and aspartic acid. Foods containing aspartame carry a warning label for people with phenylketonuria (PKU) who cannot metabolize of phenylalanine. Providing four calories per gram, aspartame is not heat stable; therefore, it should not be used in cooking or baking. Aspartame brand names include NutraSweet and Equal.

Approved prior to 1958, saccharin is not metabolized by the body, contributing zero calories to the diet. This low calorie sweetener is heat stable and can be used for cooking and baking. Saccharin brand names include Sweet ‘N Low, Sweet Twin, and Sugar Twin.

Approved in 2008, stevia is comprised of highly purified steviol glycosides, which make up the sweetest part of the stevia plant. Stevia is considered a natural sweetener containing zero calories. Stevia brand names include Truvia, PureVia, and Sun Crystals.

Approved in 1998, sucralose is produced through a process of replacing hydrogen-oxygen groups on sugar molecules with chlorine atoms. The body does not recognize sucralose as a carbohydrate, so it is poorly absorbed and eliminated from the body contributing no calories to the diet. Sucralose is a very stable product and can be used in cooking and baking. Sucralose brand names include Splenda.

How to incorporate into your diet

Low calorie sweeteners are an option for those working to lose weight. If you struggle to not have a bottle of soda every day, replacing regular soda with diet soda is a safe option for reducing caloric intake. If you struggle to drink enough water every day, consuming flavored waters containing low calorie sweeteners is a safe option to boost water intake without increasing caloric intake.

You can also cut calories to promote weight gain by replacing added sugar with low calorie sweeteners. An example would be the sugar you add to breakfast cereal, coffee, or tea.

Lowcalorie sweeteners are most beneficial to health when combined with a healthy diet and active lifestyle.

Changing habits doesn’t happen overnight. To ensure you are successful, I access How to Make Heart Healthy Changes into Lifelong Habits here.

All the best,

Lisa Nelson RD
Health Pro for HealthCentral