Sweeteners in food

Learn more about sweeteners, why they’re used, and how they may affect health.

Why sweeteners are used in food

Sweeteners are used to:

  • reduce sugar content
  • lower the energy content of food.

They are many times sweeter than sugar. This means they can be used in small amounts.

Sweeteners are used instead of sugar because they:

  • can be eaten by people who need to manage their energy or sugar intake
  • can reduce tooth decay.

Foods that contain sweeteners

Examples of some foods that may use sweeteners are:

  • soft drinks
  • yoghurt
  • chewing gum.

Are sweeteners safe?

Studies have shown that most sweeteners are safe. 

People who need to limit their intake

Some people have a rare inherited disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU). People with PKU can't break down the sweeteners aspartame and aspartame-acesulphame salt.

Foods containing these sweeteners must have a warning on the label.

How sweeteners are regulated in New Zealand

All food additives, including sweeteners, must be assessed for safety by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

Intense sweeteners – Food Standards Australia New Zealand

Science and research on sweeteners

The safe levels of food additives like sweeteners is calculated using a measure called the "acceptable daily intake" or ADI. ADIs tell you how much of a specific food additive you can safely eat each day, over the course of your life.

The ADI for the sweetener aspartame is 40 milligrams for each kilogram of body weight. To exceed this, a 70 kg adult would have to drink at least 15 to 20 cans of diet soft drink a day – every day of their life.

Sweeteners must be listed on labels

All sweeteners used in food must be listed on the label. Sweeteners are listed under the class name (sweetener), and name or international code number. For example, "sweetener (951)".

Find out more about food labelling

Types of sweetener

  • Acesulphame potassium (950)
  • Alitame (956)
  • Aspartame (951)
  • Aspartame-acesulphame salt (962)
  • Cyclamate (952)
  • Neotame (961)
  • Saccharin (954)
  • Stevia (steviol glycosides) (960)
  • Sucralose (955)
  • Thaumatin (957)

Reports and studies on sweeteners

European Food Safety Authority explains the safety of aspartame

Who to contact

If you have questions about sweeteners, email info@mpi.govt.nz

Last reviewed: