A Moment of Science

Do Fake Sugars Have Calories?

These days artificial sweeteners are everywhere. Do they have any calories at all?

The word

Photo: Rakka (flickr)

Splenda -- a.k.a. "sucralose" -- is between 320 and 1,000 times sweeter than normal sugar.

Do artificial sweeteners have calories? The answer isn’t as obvious as it seems.

Saccharin and Sucralose are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. Aspartame, also known as NutraSweet, is about one hundred and sixty times sweeter. That means that one teaspoon of aspartame is the same as one hundred and sixty teaspoons of sugar.

The sweet taste of a substance has to do with how well the molecules that make up the substance chemically bind with the sweet taste receptors in our mouth. The amount of energy released when we metabolize this substance, is measured in calories. The reason saccharin and sucralose have no calories is because our bodies don’t metabolize them.

However, when we metabolize aspartame, it breaks down into chemicals that do have a caloric value. That’s where the degree of sweetness comes in. Because aspartame is one hundred and sixty times as sweet as sugar, you only need to use a fraction of the amount of sugar you’d have to use otherwise. This amount is so small, it’s insignificant in terms of calories.

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