What are low / no calorie sweeteners?

Low/no calorie sweeteners are food ingredients with sweet taste and no, or virtually no, calories that are used in foods and beverages as well as in table-top sweeteners in place of sugar to provide the desired sweetness with fewer or zero calories.1

Low/no calorie sweeteners are intensely sweet compounds, which means that they are several hundred times sweeter than table sugar. Thus, only very small quantities are needed to confer the desired level of sweetness to foods and drinks, while contributing very few or no calories at all to the final product.

Low/no calorie sweeteners impart no, or virtually no, calories to our foods and drinks, so they can be a helpful tool in reducing individuals’ total calorie intake.

Commonly used low/no calorie sweeteners

The most known and commonly used low/no calorie sweeteners worldwide are acesulfame potassium (or acesulfame-K), aspartame, cyclamate, saccharin, sucralose and steviol glycosides. Other low/no calorie sweeteners that have been approved for use in Europe and around the world include: thaumatin, neotame, neohesperidine DC, advantame and aspartame – acesulfame salt.

While all low/no calorie sweeteners used in food and drink production confer sweet taste with no, or practically no, calories, each one of the different low/no calorie sweeteners has a unique structure and metabolic fate, technical characteristics and taste profile.2

In the scientific literature, low/no calorie sweeteners may also be described by the terms: non-nutritive sweeteners, non-energy sweeteners, low-calorie sweeteners, intense sweeteners, high potency sweeteners or even as sugar substitutes.

The history of low/no calorie sweeteners

Low/no calorie sweeteners have been safely used and enjoyed by consumers all over the world for more than a century.3 The first commonly used low/no calorie sweetener, saccharin, was discovered in 1879. Since then, a number of other low/no calorie sweeteners have been discovered and are now used in foods and drinks worldwide.

Nowadays, as we are facing worrying rates of obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) globally and public health authorities recommend to limit the intake of excess amounts of free sugars in our diets, low/no calorie sweeteners can be a helpful tool, as they provide sweet taste with few or no calories.

Low/no calorie sweeteners can help individuals to reduce overall calorie intake and to meet recent dietary guidelines recommending the reduction of excessive sugar consumption while still enjoying sweet taste.

  1. Gibson S, Drewnowski J, Hill A, Raben B, Tuorila H, Windstrom E. Consensus statement on benefits of low calorie sweeteners. Nutrition Bulletin 2014; 39(4): 386-389
  2. Magnuson BA, Carakostas MC, Moore NH, Poulos SP, Renwick AG. Biological fate of low-calorie sweeteners. Nutr Rev 2016; 74(11): 670-689
  3. Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition, Edition: 2nd, 2003. Publisher: Academic Press Ltd., Editors: B. Caballero, L. Trugo, P. Finglas.