Saccharin – Is This Sweetener Good or Bad?

Cup of Tea and Sweetener

Saccharin is one of the oldest artificial sweeteners on the market.

In fact, it has been used to sweeten foods and drinks for over 100 years.

However, it wasn’t until the ’60s and ’70s that it became popular as a sugar replacement.

Some say that replacing sugar with saccharin benefits weight loss, diabetes and dental health.

Others are skeptical about the safety of all artificial sweeteners, including this one.

What Is Saccharin?

Saccharin is an artificial or non-nutritive sweetener.

It is made in a laboratory through the oxidation of the chemicals o-toluenesulfonamide or phthalic anhydride. It looks like white, crystalline powder.

Saccharin is commonly used as a sugar substitute because it doesn’t contain calories or carbs. Humans can’t break down saccharin, so it leaves the body unchanged.

It is around 300–400 times sweeter than regular sugar, so you only need a small amount to get the sweet taste.

However, it can have an unpleasant, bitter aftertaste. This is why saccharin is often mixed with other low or zero-calorie sweeteners.

For example, saccharin is sometimes combined with aspartame, another low-calorie sweetener commonly found in carbonated diet drinks.

Food manufacturers are very fond of saccharin because it’s fairly stable and has a long shelf life. It’s safe to consume even after years of storage.

In addition to carbonated diet drinks, saccharin is used to sweeten low-calorie candies, jams, jellies and cookies. It is also used in many medicines.

Saccharin can be used like table sugar to sprinkle onto food, such as cereal or fruit, or used as a sugar substitute in coffee or when baking.

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Bottom Line: Saccharin is a zero-calorie artificial sweetener. It is 300–400 times sweeter than sugar and commonly used as a replacement.

Evidence Suggests That it is Safe For Human Consumption

Health authorities all agree that saccharin is safe for human consumption.

These include the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

However, this wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1970s, several studies linked saccharin to the development of bladder cancer in rats (1).

It was then classified as “possibly cancerous to humans.” Yet further research discovered that the cancer development in rats was not relevant to humans.

Observational studies in humans showed no clear link between saccharin consumption and the risk of cancer (2, 3, 4).

Due to the lack of solid evidence linking saccharin to cancer development, its classification was changed to “not classifiable as cancerous to humans” (5).

However, despite the lack of evidence linking saccharin to cancer, many experts feel observational studies are not sufficient to confirm there is definitely no risk.

Therefore, many still recommend that people avoid saccharin.

Bottom Line: Observational studies in humans have found no evidence that saccharin causes cancer or any harm to human health.

Food Sources of Saccharin

Jelly Beans

Saccharin is found in a wide variety of “diet foods” and drinks. It’s also used as a table sweetener.

It’s sold under brand names like Sweet ‘N Low, Sweet Twin and Necta Sweet.

Saccharin is available as both granules and as a liquid, with one serving providing sweetness comparable to two teaspoons of sugar.

Another common source of saccharin is artificially sweetened drinks, but the FDA restricts this amount to no more than 12 mg per fluid ounce.

Due to the ban on saccharin in the 1970s, many diet drink manufacturers switched to aspartame as a sweetener and continue to use it today.

Saccharin is often used in baked goods, jams, jelly, chewing gum, canned fruit, candy, dessert toppings and salad dressings.

It can also be found in cosmetic products, including toothpaste and mouthwash. Additionally, it’s a common ingredient in medicines, vitamins and pharmaceuticals.

In the European Union, saccharin that has been added to food or drinks can be identified as E954 on the nutrition label.

Bottom Line: Saccharin is a common table sweetener. It can also be found in diet drinks and low-calorie foods, as well as vitamins and medicines.

How Much Can You Eat?

Two Teaspoons Filled With Sweetener Resting on a Cup of Coffee

The FDA has set the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of saccharin at 2.3 mg/lb (5 mg/kg) of body weight.

This means if you weigh 154 lbs (70 kgs), you can consume 350 mg every day of your life without going over the limit.

To further put this into perspective, you could consume 3.7 cans of 12-ounce diet soda daily — nearly 10 servings of saccharin.

No studies have measured the total intake of saccharin in the US population, but studies in European countries have found that it is well within limits (6, 7, 8).

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Bottom Line: According to the FDA, adults and children can consume up to 2.3 mg of saccharin per pound (5 mg per kg) of body weight without risk.

Saccharin May Have Slight Weight Loss Benefits

Weight Scale

Replacing sugar with a low-calorie sweetener may benefit weight loss and protect against obesity (9).

That’s because it allows people to consume the foods and drinks they enjoy with fewer calories (9, 10).

Depending on the recipe, saccharin can replace 50–100% of the sugar in certain food products without significantly compromising the taste or texture.

Nevertheless, some studies suggest that consuming artificial sweeteners like saccharin can actually increase hunger, food intake and weight gain (11, 12).

One observational study followed 78,694 women. Those using artificial sweeteners gained about 2 lbs (0.9 kgs) more than non-users (13).

However, a recent high-quality study reviewed all the evidence about artificial sweeteners and how they affect food intake and body weight (14).

It concluded that overall, replacing sugar with zero- or low-calorie sweeteners does not cause weight gain.

Instead, it leads to reduced calorie intake (94 fewer calories per meal, on average) and reduced weight (about 3 lbs or 1.4 kgs, on average) (14).

Bottom Line: Studies show that replacing sugar with low-calorie sweeteners can lead to small reductions in calorie intake and body weight.

The Effects on Blood Sugar Levels Are Unclear

Saccharin is often recommended as a sugar substitute for people with diabetes.

This is because it’s not metabolized by your body. Therefore, it leaves your body unchanged and does not affect blood sugar levels like refined sugar does.

Few studies have analyzed the effects of saccharin alone on blood sugar levels, but several studies have looked at the effects of other artificial sweeteners.

One trial included 128 people with type 2 diabetes. It found that consuming the artificial sweetener sucralose (Splenda) did not affect blood sugar levels (15).

The same result was seen in studies using other artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame (16, 17, 18).

Some short-term studies also suggest that replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners may help blood sugar control. However, the effect is usually quite small (19).

Nevertheless, the majority of evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners do not significantly affect blood sugar levels in healthy people or diabetics (20).

Bottom Line: Saccharin is unlikely to affect long-term blood sugar control in healthy people or those with diabetes.

Replacing Sugar With Saccharin May Help Reduce the Risk of Cavities

Sweet'n Low Sweetener

Added sugar is a major cause of dental decay (21).

Therefore, using a low-calorie sweetener instead can reduce the risk of cavities (22).

Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners like saccharin are not fermented into acid by the bacteria in your mouth (21).

This is why it is often used as a sugar alternative in medicines (23).

However, it’s important to be aware that foods and drinks containing artificial sweeteners can still contain other ingredients that cause cavities.

These include certain acids in carbonated drinks and naturally occurring sugars in fruit juices.

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Bottom Line: Substituting saccharin for sugar may help reduce the risk of cavities, but other ingredients may still cause tooth decay.

Does it Have Any Negative Effects?

Sweetener Tablet Dispenser

Most health authorities consider saccharin to be safe for human consumption.

Nevertheless, there is still some skepticism about the potential negative effects on human health.

A recent study found that using saccharin, sucralose and aspartame may disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut (24).

Research in this area is relatively new and limited. Yet there is convincing evidence that changes in gut bacteria are associated with an increased risk of diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer (25).

In one study, mice were fed a daily dose of aspartame, sucralose or saccharin. After 11 weeks, they showed unusually high blood sugar levels. This indicates glucose intolerance and therefore a higher risk of metabolic disease (24, 26).

However, once the mice were treated with antibiotics that destroyed the gut bacteria, blood glucose levels returned to normal.

The same experiment was done in a group of healthy people who consumed the maximum recommended dose of saccharin daily for five days.

Four out of seven had abnormally high blood sugar levels, as well as changes in gut bacteria. The others did not experience any gut bacteria changes (24).

Scientists think that artificial sweeteners such as saccharin may encourage the growth of a type of bacteria that’s better at turning food into energy.

This means that more calories from food are available, increasing the risk of obesity.

Nevertheless, this research is very new. More studies are needed to explore the link between artificial sweeteners and changes in gut bacteria.

Bottom Line: Preliminary evidence suggests artificial sweeteners like saccharin may affect gut bacteria and increase the risk of certain diseases.

Take Home Message

Based on the available evidence, saccharin appears to be generally safe for consumption and an acceptable alternative to sugar.

It may even help reduce cavities and aid in weight loss, though only slightly.

However, any benefits of using saccharin are not due to the sweetener itself, but due to reducing or avoiding sugar.