Read aloud

Alternative sweeteners fact sheet

PDF coverThis fact sheet is available in two formats.

You can download and print out the PDF version.

Or you can read it as a website page below.

People living with diabetes can include small amounts of sugar as part of a healthy eating plan. While alternative sweeteners are not necessary, some people may still choose to use these to add sweetness without adding sugar and kilojoules.

If you choose to use sweeteners, be aware that swapping sugar for a sweetener in a recipe—or buying products labelled ‘sugar-free’—does not guarantee they are a healthy choice, or that they won’t affect your blood glucose levels. Always check the nutrition information to make sure the product meets your needs or discuss this with a dietitian.

If you use sugar, remember to only use a small amount, such as a teaspoon of sugar in a cup of tea or coffee, a teaspoon of honey on porridge or a thin spread of jam on toast.

Facts about sweeteners

  • All of the sweeteners approved for sale in Australia have been tested and deemed safe for use by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
  • Sweeteners can be used in food and drinks to replace sugar and can be identified in products by their name or a code number.
  • Some sweeteners, (known as modified sugars and sugar/sweetener blends), are suitable alternatives to sugar. However, these products contain kilojoules and will still impact blood glucose levels.
  • Sweeteners do not provide any nutritional value (vitamins/minerals).

Alternative sweeteners are not suitable for everyone. Sweeteners are not recommended for infants and young children. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, discuss the use of alternative sweeteners with a dietitian or health professional.

People with diabetes who use insulin or certain blood glucose-lowering medications are at risk of hypoglycaemia (‘hypos’ or low blood glucose levels). Products containing alternative sweeteners, such as diet soft drinks, diet cordial or sugar-free lollies, should not be used to treat hypos.

People with the condition ‘phenylketonuria’ also need to avoid alternative sweeteners.

Are all sweeteners the same?

No, not all sweeteners are the same. There are three groups of alternative sweeteners, which all have different effects on blood glucose levels and weight.

You can identify the different types of sweeteners by their code number in the ingredients list on food packaging.

1. Non-nutritive sweeteners

Non-nutritive sweeteners (also known as ‘artificial’ or ‘intense’ sweeteners), include aspartame, sucralose and stevia. They do not contain carbohydrate and are low in kilojoules. ‘Diet’ or ‘low-joule’ products often use non-nutritive sweeteners instead of sugar.

If eaten in large amounts, these sweeteners can have a laxative effect and can cause bloating, wind and diarrhoea.

Non-nutritive sweetener examples:

  • Sucralose (955), for example Splenda®
  • Aspartame (951), for example Equal®, Sugarless
  • Saccharin (954), for example Sugarella®
  • Acesulfame-K or Ace-K (950), for example Hermesetas®
  • Stevia or Steviol Glycoside (960), for example Natvia®

2. Nutritive sweeteners

Nutritive sweeteners contain carbohydrate and may have just as many kilojoules as regular sugar. These include sugar alcohols and alternative natural sweeteners such as agave, rice malt syrup and fructose. They can still have an effect on your blood glucose levels so, like sugar, they are best consumed in small amounts.

Nutritive sweeteners may be found in products labelled ‘carbohydrate modified’. If eaten in large amounts, these sweeteners can have a laxative effect and can cause bloating, wind and diarrhoea. Check the label of sweetened products for warnings.

Nutritive sweetener examples:

  • Sorbitol (420)
  • Mannitol (421)
  • Xylitol (965)
  • Maltitol (967)
  • Fructose (for example, Fruisana®)

3. Modified sugars and sugar/sweetener blends

These sweeteners are either a combination of sugar and an alternative sweetener or sugar that has been modified to have a lower glycemic index (GI). These products are suitable alternatives, but they contain kilojoules and will still have some effect on blood glucose levels.

Modified sugar/sweetener examples:

  • CSR LoGIcane® (a modified cane sugar with a low GI)
  • CSR Smart Sugar® (a blend of cane sugar and Stevia)
  • Whole Earth Sweetener Co. Baking Blend® (a blend of raw sugar and Stevia)

Using sweeteners

Water is the best drink, but diet soft drinks and cordials can occasionally add variety without contributing excess sugar and kilojoules.

If you are concerned about the amount of sugar needed in a recipe, try reducing the amount of sugar recommended, modify the ingredients or use an alternative sweetener as a substitute.

Some products containing alternative sweeteners may still be high in saturated fat (such as ‘sugar-free’ chocolate), so they are not always a healthy choice. They are best included in small amounts and saved for the occasional treat as part of a healthy eating plan.

For more information about alternative sweeteners, speak to a dietitian.

More information

For more information about alternative sweeteners, visit foodstandards.gov.au.

The NDSS and you

A wide range of services and support is available through the NDSS to help you manage your diabetes. This includes information on diabetes management through the NDSS Helpline and website. The products, services and education programs available can help you stay on top of your diabetes.

This information is intended as a guide only. It should not replace individual medical advice. If you have any concerns about your health, or further questions, you should contact your health professional.

Version 3 March 2020. First published June 2016.