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Action on Sugar

Sugar Replacers

Sugar replacers are also known as ‘artificial sweeteners’, ‘sugar substitutes’, ‘low calorie sweeteners’, ‘high-intensity sweeteners’, ‘bulk sweeteners’ or ‘non-nutritive sweeteners’. For the purpose of this statement, we refer to ‘sugar replacers’ throughout.

There are many sugar replacers on the market. They have slightly different functions and taste profiles, and the amount of research conducted on them varies.

We recommend that both sugar and overall sweetness should be reduced in food and drink by reformulation. If used to aid this process, the quantity of sugar replacer used should be represented in the nutrition information. 

In line with advice from early years health organisations, a precautionary approach should be taken to limit the intake of sugar replacers by pregnant and lactating women. We recommend that infants and young children should not consume sugar replacers or sugar sweetened beverages.

Sugar replacers fall into two categories: high-intensity sugar replacers which have no energy value and an intense sweet taste and polyols which are low-calorie sugar replacers with other functions in foods besides sweetness, such as providing bulk.

High-intensity sugar replacers provide no functional role. In contrast to polyols, high-intensity sugar replacers provide sweetness without providing bulk or contributing to energy.  Their role is simply to mimic the sweetness of sugar. (Table 1)

Polyols provide structure.  Polyols (also known as sugar alcohols) are typically derived from sugars and are the main class of compounds used as bulk sugar replacers. Polyols are less energy dense than sugar (2.4kcal/g compared with 4.0kcal/g sugar) and are less sweet. (Table 2)

Sugar replacers are declared ‘safe’.  Like all food additives, they are regulated substances and are evaluated for safety before being approved for use. All types of sugar replacers used in the UK are regulated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and have been approved as safe for human consumption up to the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI).

Under the current European law, sugar replacers must be included in the ingredients list on product packaging declaring its function (e.g. sweetener) and its name (e.g. Aspartame) or its E number (e.g. E951). As part of any proposed changes to labelling in the UK after exiting the EU, there is an opportunity to add sweeteners to the nutrition information, so consumers can see the exact amount of sweetener used and can compare between products.

Sugar replacers may not aid weight loss. Substituting sugar with a sugar replacer (polyol or high intensity) may be a useful way to reduce calorie intake, however, the evidence around whether sugar replacers help in long-term weight loss is inconclusive, and it may be the case that individuals consume more calories elsewhere to compensate.

Reducing sugar should reduce both calories and sweetness. The main objective of reducing sugar is to produce reformulated foods and drinks that are less energy dense and are less cariogenic than the original products.  Replacing sugar with sugar replacers is one way the food and drink industry can reduce the sugar and calorie content of some products.

Ultimately, reductions in both calories and sweetness are needed to improve the nation’s diet and health. Reformulation of existing products should be prioritised by businesses, along with healthier new product development. This will increase the availability of food and drink with less sugar and sugar replacers and more whole fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, to bring about change in population taste preferences.  The food industry should be funding and undertaking new research into technological advances and this area should be closely monitored. More research is needed to understand the role of sugar replacers in weight management. 

We conclude that sugar replacers are safe to use but may not aid weight loss or reduce the desire for sweet foods and drinks overall.  Polyols will continue to be useful to provide bulk and structure in a wide range of food products.  However high-intensity sugar replacers serve no purpose other than to provide sweetness and should be used only as a short-term solution, their use gradually reduced over time and if used, the quantity of sugar replacer should be represented in the nutrition information. 

Potential harms from sugar replacers cannot be excluded so we will continue to review the evidence in this area and update our position accordingly. 

Updated December 2020

Table 1: Permitted high intensity sugar replacers for use in the European Union


European Food Safety Authority/Scientific Committee on Food Opinion

Commission Regulation (EU) 231/2012 laying down specifications for food additives*



Approximately 200 times as sweet as sucrose



Approximately 200 times as sweet as sucrose



Approximately 30-40 times as sweet as sucrose



Approximately between 300 and 500 times as sweet as sucrose


A sweetness potency around 600-650 times that of sucrose




Approximately 2000 to 3000 times as sweet as sucrose



Approximately between 1000 and 1800 times as sweet as sucrose



Approximately between 200 and 300 times sweeter than sucrose


Approximately 7000 to 13000 times greater than that of sucrose



Approximately 37000 times sweeter than sucrose


*Where there are no references to sweetness potency included in Regulation 231/2012 on specifications, references to the sweetness potency in the EFSA/SCF opinions are provided where known.

Table 2: Polyols commonly used as bulk sugar replacers



Sweetness relative to Sucrose (100%)

E 966



E 953



E 420



E 421



E 965



E 968



E 967







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