With continued efforts to find solutions to rising rates of obesity and diabetes, there is increased interest in the potential health benefits of the use of low- and no-calorie sweeteners (LNCSs). Concerns about safety often deter the use of LNCSs as a tool in helping control caloric intake, even though the safety of LNCS use has been affirmed by regulatory agencies worldwide. In many cases, an understanding of the biological fate of the different LNSCs can help health professionals to address safety concerns. The objectives of this review are to compare the similarities and differences in the chemistry, regulatory status, and biological fate (including absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion) of the commonly used LNCSs: acesulfame potassium, aspartame, saccharin, stevia leaf extract (steviol glycoside), and sucralose. Understanding the biological fate of the different LNCSs is helpful in evaluating whether reports of biological effects in animal studies or in humans are indicative of possible safety concerns. Illustrations of the usefulness of this information to address questions about LNCSs include discussion of systemic exposure to LNCSs, the use of sweetener combinations, and the potential for effects of LNCSs on the gut microflora.
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