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There are two types of sweeteners:

  • Caloric (nutritive)
  • Noncaloric (non-nutritive)

The caloric sweeteners provide 4 calories per gram. The noncaloric varieties provide zero calories


Caloric sweeteners provide sweet flavor and bulk when added to food. They also maintain freshness and contribute to product quality. Caloric sweeteners act as a preservative in jams and jellies, and a flavor enhancer in processed meats. They provide fermentation for breads and pickles, bulk to ice cream, and body to carbonated beverages. Some caloric sweeteners are made by processing sugar compounds. Some occur naturally.

Noncaloric sweeteners are used in place of caloric sweeteners in some foods. They do not provide calories, but they do provide the sweet taste. All noncaloric sweeteners are chemically processed.

Food Sources



  • Confectioner's sugar (also known as powdered sugar) is finely ground sucrose.
  • Corn sweeteners are sugars made from corn (for example, corn syrup). Corn syrup is used frequently in carbonated beverages, baked goods, and some canned products. It is a liquid combination of maltose, glucose, and dextrose sugars
  • Dextrose is glucose combined with water.
  • Invert sugar is a sugar that is made by dividing sucrose into its two parts: glucose and fructose. It is sweeter than sucrose and used in a liquid form, and helps keep candies and baked items sweet.
  • Sucrose includes raw sugar, granulated sugar, brown sugar, confectioner's sugar, and turbinado sugar. It is made up of glucose and fructose. It is made by concentrating sugar beet juice or sugar cane.
  • Turbinado sugar is unrefined sugar made from sugar cane juice.


  • Raw sugar is granulated, solid, or coarse, and is brown in color. It forms when the moisture from the juice of the sugar cane evaporates.
  • Brown sugar is made from the sugar crystals obtained from molasses syrup.
  • Fructose is the naturally occurring sugar in all fruits. It is also called levulose or fruit sugar.
  • Glucose is found in fruits but in limited amounts. It is also a syrup made from corn starch.
  • Honey is a combination of fructose, glucose, and water, produced by bees.
  • Lactose (milk sugar) is the carbohydrate that is in milk. It is made up of glucose and galactose.
  • Maltose (malt sugar) is produced during the process of fermentation. It is found in beer and in breads.
  • Mannitol is a byproduct of alcohol production but does not contain any alcohol. It may have a laxative effect when eaten in large quantities. It is used in dietetic food products because it has half the calories of sugar and is not well absorbed by the body.
  • Maple sugar is obtained from the sap of maple trees. It is made up of sucrose, fructose, and glucose.
  • Molasses is obtained from the residue of sugar cane processing.
  • Sorbitol is used in many dietetic food products. It is produced from glucose and it is also found naturally in certain berries and fruits. It is absorbed by the body at a much slower rate than sugar.


  • Aspartame is a combination of phenylalanine and aspartic acid, which are two amino acids. It is also known by the brand names Equal and Nutrasweet. It is 220 times sweeter than sugar.
  • Acesulfame K is an artificial sweetener, also known as Sunett. It is heat stable and can be used in cooking and baking. It is also available as a tabletop sweetener, marketed under the name Sweet One. It is FDA approved and is used in combination with other sweeteners such as saccharin in carbonated low-calorie beverages and other products.
  • Cyclamates are 30 times sweeter than sugar. They are banned in the United States because in 1970 they were shown to have caused bladder cancer in animals.
  • Saccharin is 200 - 700 times sweeter than sugar. It is used in many dietetic food and beverage products.
  • Sucralose (Splenda) is an artificial sweetener made from sugar. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar. It is heat stable and can be used in baking. It is used in many dietetic food and beverage products.
Side Effects

Sugar provides calories and no other nutrients. Sugar or caloric sweeteners can lead to tooth decay.

Drinking large amounts of sugar-containing beverages is associated with obesity in children.

A high intake of sugar does not cause diabetes, but if you are diagnosed with diabetes the amount of simple sugar you eat often needs to be reduced.

People have reported side effects from eating aspartame, but this has not been proven through scientific studies.

Sorbitol may have a laxative effect when eaten in large quantities.


Sugar is on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) list of safe foods. It contains 16 calories per teaspoon and can be used in moderation. All of the various types of sugars described earlier can be used in moderation.

The artificial sweeteners aspartame, acesulfame K , and sucralose are all FDA approved.

Aspartame is not recommended for people with phenylketonuria (PKU), as they are unable to metabolize it.

The U.S. National Toxicology Program removed saccharin from it's list of cancer-causing substances in May 2000.


U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Artificial sweeteners: No calories…sweet! FDA Consumer Magazine, July-August 2006. Available at (accessed May 3, 2009)

Related Taxonomy

Review Date: 5/3/2009
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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