Intense sweeteners are food additives that have a relative sweetness many times that of sugar which means they can be used in much smaller amounts. They are added to foods to replace the sweetness normally provided by sugars without contributing significantly to available energy. This means they can be viewed as one way for consumers to control kilojoule or carbohydrate intake.
A number of intense sweeteners are approved for use in Australia and New Zealand. These are alitame, acesulfame potassium (Ace K), aspartame, advantame, cyclamate, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, steviol glycosides and thaumatin. You can find more information about permissions for sweeteners and levels that are allowed in Standard 1.3.1.
Intense sweeteners undergo a comprehensive safety assessment before being permitted in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. FSANZ has also monitored levels of intense sweeteners in food and drinks in Australia and New Zealand as part of dietary reviews. As a result of the reviews, action was taken to reduce levels of cyclamates in soft drinks.
Report on intense sweeteners
Review of cyclamate permissions
In the Code, intense sweeteners are classed as food additives. If you want to know if an intense sweetener is in your food, you can look at the ingredient list on the food label where you will find the food additive’s name or Code number, for example, Sweetener Aspartame or Sweetener (951).
Labelling is particularly important for consumers with the rare genetic disorder called Phenylketonuria (PKU). PKU is characterised by a deficiency in an enzyme needed to breakdown the amino acid phenylalanine (a product of aspartame) in the human body to another amino acid named tyrosine. When this enzyme is deficient phenylalanine accumulates. If left untreated, this can cause problems with brain development, leading to progressive mental retardation, brain damage, and seizures. It is managed by controlling phenylalanine levels through diet, or a combination of diet and medication. Individuals with PKU need to adhere to a special diet low in phenylalanine for at least the first 16 years of their lives. This requires severely restricting or eliminating foods high in protein, such as meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, cheese, legumes, cow milk and other dairy products.
If sweetened foods and drinks contain aspartame (which breaks down to phenylalanine) mandatory labelling is required to alert people with PKU that the product contains phenylalanine. No other population groups are adversely affected by aspartame consumption in food and beverages.