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The Choice Is Yours

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Aspartame

Brand names: Equal, NutraSweet

160 to 220 times sweeter than sugar (sucrose)

Several animal studies have suggested that aspartame, a combination of two amino acids and methanol, might cause cancer, but human research conducted by the National Cancer Institute and reported in 2006 showed no such harm; the Food and Drug Administration considers it safe, though some people (like me) may get headaches if they consume too much. NutraSweet Co. also makes the hyper-sweet neotame (it's 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar), which can be used in baked goods and other products. Some people are born with a condition that makes them sensitive to aspartame.

Saccharin

Brand name: Sweet 'N Low

200-700 times sweeter than sugar

Lots of back-and-forth research as to whether saccharin causes cancer; the FDA actually proposed removing it from the market in 1977, but it soon returned, with a warning notice. That notice was axed in 2000; the Center for Science in the Public Interest still recommends against its use.

Stevia

Brand names: Truvia, PureVia (both also called rebiana)

100--200 times sweeter than sugar

Derived from the stevia bush, this natural sweetener is also known as rebaudioside A. The controversial sweetener was rejected by the FDA and by similar agencies in Canada and Europe in the 1990s for fear it might cause cancer or damage users' reproductive systems. A reformulation gained FDA approval last December. CSPI protested, saying further testing was needed.

Sucralose

Brand name: Splenda

600 times sweeter than sugar

Billed as a natural sweetener because it's sugar-based, sucralose is actually a processed product formed by treating sugar, or sucrose, with chlorine. It's got the best safety profile of the bunch.

Acesulfame-K (the K stands for potassium)

Brand name: Sunett

200 times sweeter than sugar

This synthetic sweetener is often paired with sucralose. CSPI is wary that this product, tests for which were, it claims "of mediocre quality" and conducted 30 years ago, may be carcinogenic and asked the FDA not to approve it in 1996.

-- Jennifer Huget

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