Synthetic sweeteners are obtained artificially. Small molecular adjustments create sweeteners with an extreme sweetening power. Because of the high sweetening power, these sweeteners are added to products in very small quantities. This makes the amount of calories negligible. The synthetic sweeteners can be produced cheaply, making them very popular in the food industry. Despite the fact that all synthetic sweeteners contain an E number (deemed safe by the EU), they have a strict ADI (acceptable daily intake). If these values are exceeded, there is a real risk of health problems.
Below you will find an overview of the most common synthetic sweeteners.
Sucralose (E955) is made industrially by replacing three OH-groups of sucrose (table sugar) with three chlorine atoms. With this adjustment, the sugar substitute becomes 500 to 600 times sweeter than regular sugar. Unlike sugar, the sugar substitute is not absorbed by the body and contains no calories. Due to its high sweetening power, sucralose is added in small quantities to soft drinks, candy, sauces and other light or zero products. The acceptable daily intake of sucralose is set at 15 mg/kg body weight per day.
Aspartame (E951) is a synthetic sweetener consisting of a linkage of two different amino acids and a methyl group (functional group in chemistry) and is 200 times sweeter than sugar. In the body, aspartame is broken down into four separate substances. One of these four substances is methanol. Methanol is harmful to the body in large quantities, but the amount of methanol obtained from aspartame is almost negligible. The acceptable daily intake of aspartame has been studied several times and has been established at 40 mg/kg body weight per day.
Neotame (E961) is artificially created by linking the amino group of aspartame to a new methyl group (functional group in chemistry). This new compound creates a sweetener that is 30 to 60 times sweeter than aspartame and no less than 6,000 to 8,000 times sweeter than sugar. This means that neotame has, by far, the highest sweetening power of all sugar substitutes and can only be used in very low concentrations. In addition, neotame is heat-resistant, soluble in water and flavour-enhancing with fruit, vanilla and chocolate flavours. Because of these properties, neotame is used in soft drinks, dairy products and candy, among other things.
Saccharin (E954) is a synthetic sweetener that is 300 to 500 times sweeter than sugar. The sweetener provides no calories and does not affect blood sugar levels. In addition, saccharin has a preservative effect. Saccharin has a long shelf life and can be heated or frozen. Because of these properties, saccharin can be used in, among other things, canned fruit and vegetables, soft drinks and other zero and light products. The acceptable daily intake is 5 mg/kg body weight per day.
Acesulfame-K (E950), also known as acesulfame potassium, is 200 times sweeter than sugar and comes from an organic salt. This synthetic sweetener is not converted or stored in the body. Due to its good solubility, it is quickly absorbed and the sweetener leaves the body through urine. Because acesulfame-K has a bitter and unpleasant taste at higher concentrations, it is often mixed with other sweeteners and added to, for example, soft drinks, fruit- and sports drinks, dairy products and desserts. The acceptable daily intake of acesulfame-K has been established at 9 mg/kg body weight per day.
Cyclamate (E952) is 30 to 50 times sweeter than sugar and is artificially made from cyclamic acid. Like acesulfame-K, this sweetener comes from an organic salt. Only in the intestines is cyclamate absorbed, and then excreted unchanged. Research indicates that cyclamate is converted into cyclohexylamine to varying degrees. For this reason, the ADI was reduced to 7 mg/kg body weight in the year 2000. Cyclamate is used in soft drinks, sports drinks, desserts, sauces and sugar-free chewing gum, among other things.
Sanne van Erp, dietitian at Green Sweet