There are two types of sweeteners: caloric (nutritive) and noncaloric (non nutritive). The caloric sweeteners provide 4 Calories per gram; and the noncaloric varieties provide zero.


Caloric sweeteners provide sweet flavor and bulk when added to food. They also maintain freshness and contribute to product quality. Caloric sweeteners act as a preservative in jams and jellies, and a flavor enhancer in processed meats. They provide fermentation for breads and pickles, bulk to ice cream, and body to carbonated beverages. Some caloric sweeteners are made by processing sugar compounds and some occur naturally.

Noncaloric sweeteners are used in place of caloric sweeteners in some cases. They do not provide calories, but they do provide the sweet taste. All noncaloric sweeteners are chemically processed.

Food Sources 



  • Confectioner’s sugar (also known as powdered sugar) is finely ground sucrose.  
  • Corn sweeteners are sugars obtained from corn (for example, corn syrup). Corn syrup is used frequently in carbonated beverages, baked goods, and some canned products. It is a liquid that is a combination of maltose, glucose, and dextrose.  
  • Dextrose is glucose combined with water.  
  • Invert sugar is a sugar that is made by dividing sucrose into its two parts: glucose and fructose. Sweeter than sucrose and used in a liquid form, invert sugar helps in maintaining the sweetness of confections and baked items.  
  • Sucrose includes raw sugar, granulated sugar, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, and turbinado sugar. It is made up of glucose and fructose. It is made by concentrating sugar beet juice and or sugar cane.  
  • Turbinado sugar is made by refining sugar and making it more pure.


  • Raw sugar is granulated, solid, or coarse, and is brown in color. It is obtained by the evaporation of the moisture from the juice of the sugar cane.  
  • Brown sugar is made from the sugar crystals obtained from molasses syrup.  
  • Fructose is the naturally occurring sugar in all fruits. It is also called levulose or fruit sugar.  
  • Glucose is found in fruits but in limited amounts; it is also a syrup made from corn starch.  
  • Honey is a combination of fructose, glucose, and water, produced by bees.  
  • Lactose (milk sugar) is the carbohydrate that is in milk. It is made up of glucose and galactose.  
  • Maltose (malt sugar) is produced during the process of fermentation. It is found in beer and in breads.  
  • Mannitol is a by-product of alcohol production but does not contain any alcohol. It does have a laxative effect when consumed in large quantities. It is used in dietetic food products.  
  • Maple sugar is obtained from the sap of maple trees. It is made up of sucrose, fructose, and glucose.  
  • Molasses is obtained from the residue of sugar cane processing.  
  • Sorbitol is used in many dietetic food products. It is produced from glucose and it is also found naturally in certain berries and fruits. It is absorbed by the body at a much slower rate than sugar.


  • Aspartame is a combination of phenylalanine and aspartic acid, which are two amino acids. It is also known by its commercial names of Equal, which is available as a packaged sweetener, and as NutraSweet when it is used in food or beverage products. It is 180 to 220 times sweeter than sugar.  
  • Acesulfame K is an artificial sweetener, also known as Sunett. It is heat stable and can be used in cooking and baking. It is also available as a tabletop sweetener, marketed under the name Sweet One. It is FDA-approved and is used in combination with other sweeteners such as saccharin in carbonated low-calorie beverages and other products.  
  • Saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sugar. It is the first artificial sweetener. It is used in several dietetic food and beverage products.  
  • Cyclamates are 30 times sweeter than sugar. They are banned in the United States because in 1970 they were shown to have caused Bladder cancer in animals.

References: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) National Toxicology Program (NTP) 9th Report on Carcinogens, May 2000

Side Effects  

Sugar provides calories and no other nutrients. There is a concern that sugar or caloric sweeteners can cause Tooth decay. A high intake of sugar does not cause Diabetes, but if a person is diagnosed with Diabetes the amount of simple sugar eaten daily often needs to be reduced.

People have reported side effects from ingesting Aspartame, but this has not been proved through scientific studies.

Note: When speaking of nutrition, 1 Calorie = 1,000 calories or 1 kilocalorie (kcal).


Sugar is on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) list of safe foods. It contains 16 Calories per teaspoon and can be used in moderation. All of the various types of sugars described earlier can be used in moderation.

Aspartame has been FDA approved. Recommended safe daily levels are 18 packets of Equal or three 12-ounce diet sodas per day for a 130-pound person. For people with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU), aspartame is not recommended as they are unable to metabolize it.

In the National Toxicology Program (NTP) 9th Report on Carcinogens, May 2000, Saccharin was removed from the list of carcinogenic substances.

Ace-sulfame K is also FDA approved.

The FDA provides the ADI (accepted daily intake guide), which is the amount of sweetener that can be used over a lifetime and still be considered safe by a factor of at least a hundred fold. This is about 1/100 of the amount shown to have no toxic effects in animals. The ADI is reported as an amount per kilogram of body weight.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Gevorg A. Poghosian, Ph.D.

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