Intense sweeteners are used instead of sugar to lower the energy content (kilojoules) of some foods. Learn more about the intense sweeteners used in New Zealand, and how their use is controlled.
What are intense sweeteners?
Intense sweeteners replace the sweetness normally provided by sugar to provide low energy or sugar-free foods.
Unlike sugar, intense sweeteners contain little energy, so can be eaten by people who need to manage their energy intake – such as people with diabetes. Eating sugar-free products can also reduce tooth decay.
Intense versus artificial sweeteners
Intense sweeteners are often called artificial sweeteners, but some are naturally occurring plant extracts, for example, steviol glycosides from the stevia plant.
Use of intense sweeteners is regulated
Intense sweeteners are food additives, and are regulated under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.
Intense sweeteners must be listed on labels
All additives used in food, including intense sweeteners, must be listed on the label. Intense sweeteners are listed under the class name (sweetener), and name or international code number. For example, sweetener (951).
Types of intense sweetener
Acesulphame potassium (950)
Acesulphame potassium (Acesulphame-K) is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Acesulphame-K is not metabolised or stored in the body. Once eaten, it's quickly absorbed by the body and then rapidly excreted unchanged. The amount of potassium in Acesulphame-K is very small, and is similar to levels found in other foods.
It's used as a tabletop sweetener, and in many foods, drinks, confectionery, canned foods, oral hygiene products and pharmaceuticals.
Brands are Sunett and Sweet One.
Alitame is about 2,000 times sweeter than sugar. Unlike aspartame, alitame does not contain phenylalanine, and can therefore be used by people with phenylketonuria. It is used in products including toiletries and pharmaceuticals, but rarely as a sweetener in foods or drink.
A brand is Alcame.
Aspartame is more than 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is used in low-energy or sugar-free foods, including carbonated soft drinks, yoghurt and confectionery. Brand names of aspartame include NutraSweet and Equal.
Aspartame-acesulphame salt (962)
Aspartame-acesulphame salt is a mix of aspartame and acesulphane-K. It's about 350 times sweeter than sugar and is used in many foods, drinks, confectionery and chewing gum. As with aspartame, people with phenylketonuria must limit their intake of aspartame-acesulphame salt.
A brand is Twinsweet.
Cyclamate is 30 to 50 times sweeter than sugar. It's used in confectionery and many foods and drinks, and is often paired with saccharin to improve the product taste.
Brands are Sucaryl, Assugrin and Sugar Twin.
Neotame is 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. It's used in canned fruit, drinks and confectionery. Neotame is similar to aspartame, but releases only small amounts of phenylalanine, so doesn't need a label warning for people with PKU.
A brand is NutraSweet.
Saccharin is about 300 times sweeter than sugar and has no calories. It is used in many foods and drinks, confectionery, medicines and toothpaste.
Brands are Sweet'N Low, Sweet Twin, and Necta Sweet.
Stevia (Steviol glycosides) (960)
Stevia is a naturally occurring sweetener from plants in the sunflower family. It's 250 to 300 times sweeter than sugar and is used in a range of food products.
Sucralose is about 600 times sweeter than sugar and has no calories. It is commonly used in food, drinks and confectionery.
Brands are Splenda and Sugar Free Natura.
Thaumatin is an intensely sweet-tasting protein (about 100,000 times sweeter than sugar) originally extracted from a West African plant. It has been marketed as Talin, and can be manufactured using genetically modified bacteria.
Other food additives can sweeten foods, but are generally less sweet than sugar and are often used for their other properties, for example, to thicken or stabilise foods.
You can't completely digest these sugar alcohols, and eating too much of them can give you diarrhoea. When sugar alcohols are used in food products as sweeteners, the label must warn that “excess consumption may have a laxative effect”.
Brands include Erythritol, Isomalt, Sorbitol, Mannitol, Xylitol, Maltitol, and Lactitol.
Find out more
Who to contact
If you have questions about sweeteners in foods, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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