Topic Overview

What are artificial sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners can be used instead of sugar to sweeten foods and drinks. You can add them to drinks like coffee or iced tea. They are also found in many foods sold in grocery stores. These sweeteners, also called sugar substitutes, are made from chemicals and natural substances.

Sugar substitutes have very few calories compared to sugar. Some have no calories. Many people use sugar substitutes as a way to limit how much sugar they eat. They may be limiting sugar to lose weight, control blood sugar, or avoid getting cavities in their teeth.

The most common sugar substitutes are:

  • Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K, Sunett). It's in many diet foods and drinks.
  • Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet). It's mostly used to sweeten diet soft drinks.
  • Cyclamate (Sucaryl, Sugar Twin, Sweet 'N Low). Cyclamate is sold as a sweetener in packet, tablet, liquid, and granulated form. Health Canada does not allow food manufacturers to sell foods or beverages that contain cyclamate.
  • Saccharin (Hermesetas). Saccharin is available from pharmacies in tablet or powder form. It may also be added to foods or drinks.
  • Sucralose (Splenda). It's in many diet foods and drinks.
  • Stevia (Truvia, Pure Via). Stevia is made from a herbal plant and is used in foods and drinks.

Sugar alcohols are also used to sweeten diet foods and drinks. These plant-based products include mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. If you eat too much of them, sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea and bloating.

If your goal is to lose weight, keep in mind that a food can be sugar-free but still have carbohydrate, fats, and calories. It's a good idea to read the nutrition label to check for calories and carbohydrate.

Are sugar substitutes safe?

Yes, sugar substitutes are safe for most people. Health Canada regulates the use of all food additives, including artificial sweeteners also known as sugar substitutes. At one time, saccharin was thought to increase the risk of bladder cancer in animals. Studies have found no clear evidence of a link between saccharin and cancer in humans.

People who have phenylketonuria (PKU) should avoid foods and drinks that have aspartame, which contains phenylalanine.footnote 2

Are artificial sweeteners safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Yes, artificial sweeteners, also known as sugar substitutes, are safe to use in moderation during pregnancy and breast-feeding. A nutrient-rich diet is important for both you and your baby when you are pregnant or breast-feeding. And it's not a good idea to diet when you are breast-feeding. It's fine to have a diet drink or artificially sweetened foods now and then. But be sure they don't take the place of the nutrient-rich foods you need while you're pregnant or breast-feeding.

Do artificial sweeteners raise blood sugar?

No. Most artificial sweeteners contain very few calories, so they won't increase blood sugar levels. 

Sugar alcohols can have a small effect on blood sugar if you eat a lot of them. If you have diabetes, read food labels carefully to find out the amount of carbohydrate in each serving of food containing sugar alcohol. It's also a good idea to test your blood sugar after you eat foods with sugar alcohols so you can find out how they affect your blood sugar.

Related Information



  1. Health Canada (2007). Food and nutrition: Questions and answers: Saccharin. Health Canada. Accessed July 28, 2014.
  2. Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2013). The carbohydrates: Sugars, starches, and fibers. In Understanding Nutrition, 13th ed., pp. 94–123. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Other Works Consulted

  • Dietitians of Canada (2013). Sweet advice on sugar substitutes. Dietitians of Canada. Accessed July 28, 2014.
  • Health Canada (2014). Food and nutrition: 9. List of permitted sweeteners (lists of permitted food additives). Health Canada. Accessed July 28, 2014.


Adaptation Date: 7/14/2016

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Date: 7/14/2016

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC