Intense sweeteners are many times sweeter than sugar which means they can be used in much smaller amounts. They are added to foods instead of sugar to provide low energy or sugar-free foods.
Some sweeteners are referred to as artificial sweeteners. Others occur naturally e.g. steviol glycosides, which are extracted from the stevia plant.
How are sweeteners assessed for safety?
We conduct a thorough safety assessment of all food additives, including sweeteners, before they are approved for use in food. We check whether:
- they are safe at the levels being proposed, and
- that there is a good technological purpose for their use.
Our safety assessment follows an internationally accepted model and includes a
dietary exposure assessment looking at how much people would consume.
To assess safety, extensive testing is required, including animal and human studies if they are available. For example, human studies are sometimes conducted on people with diabetes to establish whether a sweetener will be tolerated by this population group.
Animal studies are designed to determine whether a substance can cause any adverse effects. They are usually conducted using very high concentrations of a substance—far greater than people are likely to consume if that substance was present in food. An uncertainty or safety factor is then applied to establish an acceptable daily intake (ADI) and a maximum permitted level, if needed, in the Food Standards Code.
An ADI is the amount you can safely consume every day, over the course of a lifetime. For example, the ADI for aspartame is 40 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight (bw). If you weigh 70 kg, then to reach the ADI you would need to consume 2.8 g/day equal to 19 cans (375 mL) of diet soft drink every day.
Watch our video on how we assess risk from chemicals in food.
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Chemicals in food video