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How Artificial Sweeteners Work


Acesulfame
This meal replacement powder uses acesulfame as a sweetener.
This meal replacement powder uses acesulfame as a sweetener.

Basics

Acesulfame (also known as acesulfame potassium, and acesulfame K) is a synthetic chemical that is roughly 200 times sweeter than sugar. It was discovered in 1967 by Hoechst AG, a German life-sciences company that is now part of Aventis. Our bodies can't metabolize it, which is why it's considered low calorie. Acesulfame is made from a process involving acetoacetic acid and its combination with potassium.

Use

The FDA approved acesulfame in 1988 and it is found in more than 4,000 products around the world. In the United States, acesulfame potassium has been approved for use in candies, tabletop sweeteners, chewing gums, beverages, dessert and dairy product mixes, baked goods, alcoholic beverages, syrups, refrigerated and frozen desserts, and sweet sauces and toppings. It can be found under the brand names Sweet One® and Sunett®. Acesulfame is often blended with other artificial sweeteners to produce a more sugar-like taste.

Controversy

In August of 1988, the Center for Science in the Public Interestformally asked for a stay of acesulfame's approval by the FDA because of "significant doubt" about its safety. CSPI claimed that the studies were flawed and did not sufficiently prove that acesulfame did not cause cancer. According to the CSPI Web site, "...acetoacetamide, a breakdown product of acesulfame, has been shown to affect the thyroid in rats, rabbits, and dogs. Administration of 1 percent and 5 percent acetoacetamide in the diet for three months caused benign thyroid tumors in rats. The rapid appearance of tumors raises serious questions about the chemical's carcinogenic potency" [ref].

Next, we'll learn about one of the newest artificial sweeteners: sucralose.


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