Diabetes Diet

Good News About Non-Caloric Sweeteners

The most comprehensive study ever about those sweeteners that don’t have any calories just appeared as the lead “original research communication” in the January 2009 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It is really good news for anyone with diabetes who is trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss.

This study changed my mind about using non-caloric sweeteners. A little more than a year ago I wrote here that, “The classic 1969 experiment by Stylianos Nicolaïdis showed that merely tasting a sweet substance – whether it is sugar or a non-caloric sweetener – causes rats to secrete insulin.” The problem with that is that more circulating insulin can make us hungry so that we will probably eat more.

But this review of all the literature — including footnotes for a total of 224 studies — says essentially not to worry about non-caloric sweeteners. Indeed, earlier studies did indicate that non-caloric sweeteners might make us more hungry. “But subsequent work showed that when incorporated into energy-yielding products, this does not occur,” the study concluded. And even if a non-caloric sweetener is used is soft drinks, we usually drink them with foods, so “augmented hunger may not be a concern.”

Only the abstract of the study, “Nonnutritive sweetener consumption in humans: effects on appetite and food intake and their putative mechanisms,” is free online. But the lead author, Barry Popkin was kind enough to send me the full-text of the study. He is professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he directs the university’s Interdisciplinary Center for Obesity. And just a few days ago his newest book, The World is Fat, just came out.

What I term non-caloric sweeteners — and Dr. Popkin calls nonnutritive ones — are Acesulfame-K, Aspartame, Saccharin, Sucralose, Neotame, and stevia. In about 100 countries outside the U.S. another one, Cyclamate, is also available.

The non-caloric sweetener that excites me the most is an extract of stevia called Truvia, which I wrote about here in May. I’ve seen it recently on the shelves at Whole Foods and my local supermarkets. And now I’m going to start using Truvia myself.

Update February 1, 2009:

As I studied the non-caloric sweeteners more — prompted by several comments below and by personal emails — I am leaning more and more toward the use of a different non-caloric sweetener. It is erythritol.

This is a sugar alcohol that Truvia contains. Like many people, I avoided all of the sugar alcohols because any substantial amount can cause stomach distress. But erythritol is an exception, as I source in one of my comments below.

The only problems that I know of with erythritol are that it has been hard to find — and hard to spell. The first problem has now disappeared, at least in Whole Foods markets.

Today I found the ultimate non-caloric sweetener — organic erythritol. And unlike Truvia and other erythritol products that Whole Foods has carried for a while, it has no unspecified “natural flavors.” It has just one ingredient — organic erythritol.

Wholesome Sweeteners in Sugar Land, Texas, makes it from table sugar and calls it “Organic Zero,” for its zero calories, zero glycemic index, and zero artificial. Actually, by FDA requirements they say that it has 0.2 calories per gram. It is 70 percent — not 100 percent — as sweet as table sugar and takes a minute or two for its flavor to develop. The website is www.organiczero.com

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • Mike Harris at

    Here is a great website full of information on Erythritol, use, specs etc.
    hope it helps

  • David Mendosa at

    Dear Linda,

    I’ve settled on SweetLeaf stevia from Wisdom Natural Brands for several reasons. I like its taste, which includes the lack of a bitter aftertaste that lots of people mention regarding stevia (although that hasn’t ever been much of a problem for me). Of course, it is also completely natural with much less processing than Truvia or anything else. The FDA has even certified SweetLeaf as GRAS, apparently the only stevia so certified:

    Last April I wrote to the company, “I heard in Jim May’s movie and read on the Wisdom Natural Brands website that the FDA has granted GRAS status to SweetLeaf. But the FDA’s site, fda.gov, doesn’t substantiate that.”

    Jim May wrote me back directly, “Yes, SweetLeaf® is GRAS. The process established by FDA in 1997, with which we chose to comply, was to hire independent groups of scientists to study all of the science on stevia and our unique method of extraction and to determine if GRAS qualifications and standards are met. We actually hired two different independent groups of scientists, comprised of former FDA GRAS scientist to determine that status of SweetLeaf®. Both groups independently determined that SweetLeaf is GRAS and provided us with lengthy documentation. All that was then required by FDA regulation was the public announcement of GRAS which was made on June 3, 2008. The documentation has been supplied to FDA.

    “FDA clears all shipments of SweetLeaf® Sweetener as it arrives into the United States from South America. SweetLeaf® Sweetener is the only truly 100% pure form of stevia coming into the United States at this time because nothing touches the product except purified water. All other brands are made with various chemicals, solvents and alcohols, including ethanol and methanol.”

    For all of these reasons SweetLeaf is my sweetener of choice.

    Thanks for asking.


  • Linda Carpenter at

    After researching another one of your articles I see Sweetleaf is a pick for you as well. I know knowledge and research is continually evolving, so just checking for an update….

  • Linda Carpenter at

    Checking on an update regarding the “Organic Zero”. Is this still the sweetener you are using or with your further research has your preference changed??

  • James at


    I just bought a protein powder and noticed it contained Acesulfame-K and Sucralose

    Will these cause a rise in my blood sugar and/or insulin?

    Is there a place I can find out the Glycemic Index values for Sucralose and Acesulfame-K ?

    • David Mendosa at

      Dear James,

      Not to worry. Neither of those artificial sweeteners will cause your levels to rise. Both IN THEMSELVES have a zero glycemic index and no calories. When sold to consumers they do, however, have bulking agents, often maltodextrin, that do have a GI and calories, but even then the amount is small so of usually no concern. But when companies add these sweeteners to their products, they are able to buy them without bulking agents.

      Best regards,


  • David Mendosa at

    Dear William,

    Yes, polyglycitol (hydrogenated starch hydrolysate) does have some calories, 2.8 per gram, as I wrote at http://www.mendosa.com/netcarbs.htm

    Rather than express it as a percentage used by the body, it might be better to think of it in relationship with standard carbohydrates, which have 4 calories per gram. So it’s about 70% as caloric as standard carbs.

    Best regards,


  • william at

    In this case the product I use has a mix of splenda and polyglycitol. If I’m reading your article correctly, they do have some calories that are absorbed by the body, correct? If so, what percentage of the polyglycitol is used by the body?

  • David Mendosa at

    Dear William,

    The place to start your search is http://www.mendosa.com/netcarbs.htm

    Best regards,


  • william at

    As a person with a ferocious sweet tooth and an insulin dependent diabetic, I have some questions about sugar free products like hard candy. Most of the products I use are sweetened with sugar alcohols and have about 45 – 50 calories per serving and all of the carbohydrates come from sugar alcohols.

    My question is this – how much of the calories come from the sugar alcohol? I understand that sugar alcohols are not absorbed and not utilized by the body. Is that reflected in the calorie per serving information?