Inside: Trying to eat less sugar but want to avoid artificial sweeteners? Look out! Here are 10 surprising foods with artificial sweeteners.
I wrote a shorter version of this for the WebMD Food and Fitness Blog.
If you’ve ever bought a “low sugar” instant oatmeal or “less sugar” soda in hopes of simply cutting back on sugar, you may have made a disappointing discovery: Many of these products also contain no- and low-cal sweeteners like sucralose and stevia.
Why? Manufacturers use this combo to cut back on the total sugar but keep the sweet flavor while masking the bitter aftertaste that a lot of sugar substitutes can have.
Sales of foods and drinks like this are increasing, according to a recent study. Between 2002 and 2018, sales of products sweetened with both regular sweeteners and sugar substitutes rose 30 percent!
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Beverages are the most common item people buy that’s made with both regular and non-nutritive sweeteners, but this duo is in a lot of other products too.
And in most cases, you really have to read the fine print on the ingredient list to know which product have artificial sweeteners.
So if you’re not a fan of these sweeteners, here are 10 products to watch out for:
10 Drinks & Foods With Artificial Sweeteners
Some bread can have nearly a teaspoon of added sugar per slice, so a low- or no-sugar bread would be great, right? Alas, this one contains sucralose.
2. CANNED FRUIT
“No sugar added” makes it sound like it’s all fruit in there, but the peaches are actually sweetened with sucralose.
3. CHOCOLATE SYRUP
It’s labeled “50% less sugar” than regular Hershey’s syrup, but that’s because they include an artificial sweetener called acesulfame potassium.
4. BREAKFAST DRINK
This Carnation drink is labeled “80% less sugars” because it’s sweetened with sucralose. (It also contains inulin, which can cause gas and bloating in some people–read Is This Ingredient Giving You Gas?)
5. DRIED FRUIT
Dried cranberries typically contain a lot of added sugar. This one has 50% less–because they use sucralose.
Instant, flavored oatmeal is another product that can be heavy on added sugar. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have an instant, lightly-sweetened version? This one is indeed “lower sugar”–because they added sucralose. Here’s how to make your own instant oatmeal packets.
This yogurt drink is labeled “no sugar added–pretty sweet, huh? That’s because it’s made with two low- and no-cal sweeteners.
8. HOT COCOA
This Swiss Miss “Sensible Sweets” cocoa uses two sugar substitutes.
9. SPORTS DRINKS
“No sugar added” may sound like this juice is all fruit, but it has two sweeteners in it.
What are these sweeteners?
Sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame are intensely sweet but have either no calories or very few. They’re sometimes referred to as “artificial” sweeteners, but since some (like stevia) come from a plant source, that’s not entirely accurate. So they’re often called “non-nutritive” sweeteners instead.
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Are these sweeteners safe?
There’s no doubt that non-nutritive sweeteners are controversial. The FDA says they’re safe, yet the internet is full of scary claims and personal anecdotes. It doesn’t help that the scientific evidence is confusing too. Some studies have linked them to increased risk for overweight and type 2 diabetes, while other studies have found the opposite.
The World Health Organization recently advised people against using them for weight control, saying that there isn’t enough evidence that they help people lose weight–and that the sweeteners may up the risk for Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
What about the personal stories swirling around these sweeteners? If you have negative reactions like headaches or bloating after consuming them, it makes sense to avoid something that doesn’t agree with you.
My two-cents as a dietitian
As a dietitian, I believe non-nutritive sweeteners can be useful to some people–for example, those with diabetes who need help with blood sugar control but don’t want to give up soda. If you’re looking to them for weight loss, it’s less clear whether they’re helpful or not.
Since I don’t like the taste of most of them, I try to avoid foods with artificial sweeteners (and no-calorie sweeteners) when I can.
I also wish food manufacturers would reduce the sugar in their products by simply making them less sweet–not adding these sweeteners.