Saccharin — Is This Sweetener Good or Bad?
What is saccharin?
Saccharin is a non-nutritive or artificial sweetener.
It’s made in a laboratory by oxidizing the chemicals o-toluene sulfonamide 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 your body unchanged.
It’s around 300–400 times sweeter than regular sugar, so you only need a small amount to get a 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 often use 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’s also used in many medicines.
Saccharin can be used similarly to table sugar to sprinkle onto food, such as cereal or fruit, or used as a sugar substitute in coffee or when baking.
SUMMARY Saccharin is a zero-calorie artificial sweetener. It’s 300–400 times sweeter than sugar and commonly used to replace it.
Evidence suggests that it’s safe
Health authorities agree that saccharin is safe for human consumption.
These include the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
However, this wasn't always the case, as in the 1970s, several studies in rats linked saccharin to the development of bladder cancer (1Trusted Source).
It was then classified as possibly cancerous to humans. Yet, further research discovered that the cancer development in rats was not relevant to humans.
Due to the lack of solid evidence linking saccharin to cancer development, its classification was changed to “not classifiable as cancerous to humans (5Trusted Source).”
However, many experts feel observational studies are not sufficient to rule out that there’s no risk and still recommend that people avoid saccharin.
SUMMARY Observational studies in humans have found no evidence that saccharin causes cancer or any harm to human health.
Food sources of saccharin
Saccharin is found in a wide variety of diet foods and drinks. It's also used as a table sweetener.
It's sold under the brand names Sweet 'N Low, Sweet Twin, and Necta Sweet.
Saccharin is available in either granule or liquid form, 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.
SUMMARY 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?
The FDA has set the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of saccharin at 2.3 mg per pound (5 mg per kg) of body weight.
This means if you weigh 154 pounds (70 kgs), you can consume 350 mg per day.
To further put this into perspective, you could consume 3.7, 12-ounce cans of diet soda daily — nearly 10 servings of saccharin.
No studies have measured the total intake of saccharin in the U.S. population, but studies in European countries have found that it’s well within limits (6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
SUMMARY 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
Depending on the recipe, saccharin can replace 50–100% of the sugar in certain food products without significantly compromising the taste or texture.
One observational study including 78,694 women found that those using artificial sweeteners gained about 2 pounds (0.9 kgs) more than non-users (13Trusted Source).
However, a high-quality study that analyzed all the evidence about artificial sweeteners and how they affect food intake and body weight determined that replacing sugar with zero- or low-calorie sweeteners does not cause weight gain (14Trusted Source).
On the contrary, it leads to reduced calorie intake (94 fewer calories per meal, on average) and reduced weight (about 3 pounds or 1.4 kgs, on average) (14Trusted Source).
SUMMARYStudies show that replacing sugar with low-calorie sweeteners can lead to small reductions in calorie intake and body weight.
Its 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 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.
What’s more, some short-term studies suggest that replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners may help blood sugar control. However, the effect is usually quite small (19Trusted Source).
Nevertheless, the majority of evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners do not significantly affect blood sugar levels in healthy people or those with diabetes (20Trusted Source).
SUMMARYSaccharin 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
However, unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners like saccharin are not fermented into acid by the bacteria in your mouth (21Trusted Source).
Therefore, using a low-calorie sweetener in place of sugar can reduce your risk of cavities (22Trusted Source).
This is why it’s often used as a sugar alternative in medicines (23Trusted Source).
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.
SUMMARYSubstituting saccharin for sugar may help reduce your risk of cavities, but other ingredients may still cause tooth decay.
Does it have any negative effects?
Most health authorities consider saccharin to be safe for human consumption.
That said, there is still some skepticism about their potentially negative effects on human health.
Research in this area is relatively new and limited. Yet, there is strong evidence to suggest that changes in gut bacteria are associated with an increased risk of diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer (25Trusted Source).
In one 11-week study, mice fed a daily dose of aspartame, sucralose, or saccharin showed unusually high blood sugar levels. This indicates glucose intolerance, and therefore, a higher risk of metabolic disease (24Trusted Source, 26Trusted Source).
However, once the mice were treated with antibiotics that killed the gut bacteria, their blood glucose levels returned to normal.
The same experiment was conducted in a group of healthy people who consumed the maximum recommended dose of saccharin daily for 5 days.
Four out of seven had abnormally high blood sugar levels, as well as changes in gut bacteria. The others did not experience any changes in gut bacteria (24Trusted Source).
Scientists think that artificial sweeteners like 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.
SUMMARYPreliminary evidence suggests artificial sweeteners like saccharin may affect gut bacteria and increase the risk of certain diseases.
The bottom line
Saccharin appears to be generally safe for consumption and an acceptable alternative to sugar.
It may even help reduce cavities and aid weight loss, though only slightly.
However, any associated benefits are not due to the sweetener itself, but rather to reducing or avoiding sugar.