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Sugar Replacers

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

We recommend that both sugar and sweeteners should be reduced in products across the board.  In line with advice from partner organisations, we do not believe that sugar replacers or sugar sweetened beverages should be consumed by children.

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 policy position, we refer to them as ‘sugar replacers’ throughout.

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.

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.

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: 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.

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



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).

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 for some people and can be a valuable tool to make positive dietary changes to aid weight loss and/or weight maintenance.  However, the evidence around whether sugar replacers help in long-term weight loss is inconclusive, and it may be the case that consumers consume more to compensate.[1]

Randomised controlled trials have demonstrated that reducing sugar intake reduces overall energy intake and suggest that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages as opposed to those sweetened with sugar replacers resulted in greater weight gain in children and adolescents. The reduction in dietary energy from sugars was achieved by using sugar replacers or other macronutrient components.

Reducing sugar should reduce both calories and sweetness. The main objective of reducing sugar in products is to obtain reformulated products 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. New product development should be skewed towards producing food and drink with less sugar, less sugar replacers and more whole fruit and vegetables and wholegrains to bring about change in population taste preferences.  The food industry should be producing more technological advances and new research in this area should be closely monitored. More research is needed to understand the role of sugar replacers in weight management. Potential harms from sugar replacers cannot be excluded so we will continue to review the evidence in this area and update our position accordingly. 

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, if at all, and their use gradually reduced over time.

March 2019



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