Artificial Sweeteners: Friend or Foe?

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Diabetic patients tend to opt for artificial sweetener as an alternative for them to enjoy the sweetness without the negative side effects. In fact, these days, due to the lower calories it contains, artificial sweeteners have also become the preferred choice of those wanting to lose weight. Artificial sweeteners are commonly found in chewing gum, diet soda and in “sugar-free” and “no sugar added” products. Always check the ingredients label before buying the product.

Non-nutritive sweeteners are artificial sweeteners that do not provide calories and will not influence the blood glucose. These include: saccharin, neotame, aspartame, sucralose, stevia and acesulfame potassium (Ace-K).

Which Sweeteners Are Safe?

In Malaysia, there are many brands of sweeteners available in the market and this list keeps growing. Below is a summary report from the Center of Science in the Public Interest on the levels of safety of different artificial sweeteners.

Sweetener Brand / Type that available in Malaysia Comments
Aspartme Equal, Pal Sweet Caloric Value: 4 kcal/g
Status: Probably Safe.


- Some user reported of headaches after consuming. People with PKU (phenylketonuria) should avoid aspartame. It is used in many food items, especially beverages and snacks



Caloric Value: 0 kcal/g

Status: Inadequately tested.

FDA granted stevia a GRAS status in December 2008. However it is not approved in Canada.

The problem with stevia is there is not enough studies to conclude whether taking it in a large amount from food would be safe or not. Here’s what troubles the toxicologists:

Reproductive problems.

Stevioside “seems to affect the male reproductive organ system,” European scientists concluded last year. When male rats were fed high doses of stevioside for 22 months, sperm production was reduced, the weight of seminal vesicles (which produce seminal fluid) declined, and there was an increase in cell proliferation in their testicles, which could cause infertility or other problems.1 And when female hamsters were fed large amounts of a derivative of stevioside called steviol, they had fewer and smaller offspring.2 Would small amounts of stevia also cause reproductive problems? This has yet to be determined.


In the laboratory, steviol can be converted into a mutagenic compound, which may promote cancer by causing mutations in the cells’ genetic material (DNA). “We don’t know if the conversion of stevioside to steviol to a mutagen happens in humans,” says Huxtable. “It’s probably a minor issue, but it clearly needs to be resolved.”

Energy metabolism.

Very large amounts of stevioside can interfere with the absorption of carbohydrates in animals and disrupt the conversion of food into energy within cells. “This may be of particular concern for children,” says Huxtable.

The bottom line: If you use stevia sparingly (once or twice a day in a cup of tea, for example), it isn’t a great threat to you. But if stevia were marketed widely and used in diet sodas, it would be consumed by millions of people. And that might pose a public health threat.

Sucralose Splenda Caloric Value: 0 kcal/g


Status: Safe

Sucralose has undergone many scientific studies and been deemed safe for use in lots of different food items. You can find sucralose in snacks, baked goods, ice cream, and even in pharmaceutical products.

Bottom line: According to the MNT for Diabetes Type 2 guidelines; the non-nutritive sweeteners are safe to be consumed within the acceptable daily intake levels among the Type 2 Diabetes adult. The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for diabetics who want to take the aspartame is 50mg/kg.


  1. J. Food Hyg. Soc. Japan 26: 169, 1985.
  2. Drug Chem. Toxicol. 21: 207, 1998.
  3. MNT for Type 2 Diabetes (Malaysia)