What are Low- & No-Calorie Sweeteners (LNCS)?


LNCS are a safe and tasty substitute for sugar. They are sweeter than sugar and are popular with weight- and health-conscious consumers as they provide the primary source of sweetness in low-calorie and sugar-free foods and beverages with few or no calories.


The calorie content varies from zero to 4 kilocalories per gram, but all deliver very few calories in practice because they are added to products in only tiny amounts. LNCS can be useful for controlling weight and for general health.


Presently, there are 11 different types of sweeteners licensed for use in the UK, which include: Acesulfame-K, Advantame, Aspartame, Aspartame-acesulfame salt, Cyclamate, Neohesperidine Dihydrochalcone, Neotame, Saccharin, Steviol Glycosides, Sucralose and Thaumatin. Each has its own unique taste profile, characteristics and benefit.


How long have LNCS been around?


LNCS have been safely used and enjoyed by consumers worldwide for more than a century. The first commonly used LNCS, Saccharin, was discovered in by Constantin Fahlberg, a chemist working at Johns Hopkins University in the US in 1879. Since then, many other low-calorie sweeteners, including Acesulfame K (ace-K), Aspartame, Cyclamate, Sucralose and Steviol Glycosides have been discovered, and are now used extensively in food, medicine, dental health and drinks products worldwide.


What types of products are LNCS found in?


LNCS are typically found in soft drinks, desserts, dairy products, confectionery, chewing gums, hot chocolate drinks and cough syrups. Most are also available as table-top sweeteners, which are used in tea and coffee or on foods such as fruit and cereals.


Do we need LNCS?


LNCS give consumers the choice to enjoy sweetness while managing sugars and calories in their everyday lives. Because they taste good and are low- or calorie-free, people are more likely to use them and stick to their dietary goals for weight management. The use of LNCS has resulted in take-home sugar from soft drinks falling by 43.5% between March 2014 and March 2020 (Kantar Worldpanel).


What are the benefits of using LNCS?


Consumers choose these products for a variety of reasons such as taste, weight loss, weight maintenance and to control sugar or carbohydrate intake. For many, sugar-free products are consumed with weight-loss in mind. For others, they may be used to maintain healthy weight or just as part of a healthy eating regimen.


What is the difference between natural and artificial sweeteners?


A natural sweetener is derived from a natural source whereas a synthetic (artificial) sweetener has been developed to sweeten food and drinks in place of sugar. All low-calorie sweeteners, whether natural or synthetic, can only be used after approval has been obtained from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), based on the authority’s vigorous assessment.


Are natural sweeteners better than artificial sweeteners?

LNCS are among the most thoroughly researched and regulated ingredients worldwide. They have been approved and endorsed by all leading global health authorities, including the European Food Safety Authority, for decades. Choosing one over another is a matter of personal preference.


How are LNCS different from sugar?


For centuries, various foods such as honey or sugar have been used to sweeten our food. Today, many of us choose to use LNCS as an alternative to sugar. Reasons being, they are intensively sweet, you only require a very small amount and they are used to provide sweetness to low-calorie and sugar-free foods and beverages. LNCS can play a role in contributing to the healthiness of a diet, without having to sacrifice the pleasure of eating sweet foods.


Is there a consumer need for LNCS?


LNCS allow consumers to enjoy sweetness while managing sugars and calories in their everyday lives. As they taste good and are low or calorie free, people are more likely to combine them with a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle and stick to their dietary goals for weight management. In March 2017 the UK Government and Public Health England publicly endorsed the use of LNCS as a safe alternative to reduce sugar in food and drink and help people manage their weight. The use of LNCS has resulted in take-home sugar from soft drinks falling by 43.5% between March 2014 and March 2020 (Kantar Worldpanel).


How do you know if a food or drink contains LNCS?


LNCS are always clearly labelled at least twice on soft drinks in the UK. European food labelling legislation requires that the presence of a low-calorie sweetener in foods and drinks is indicated on the label as ‘With sweetener(s)’ next to the description of the product. Food additives that have been assessed are assigned E Numbers. Some consumers have a negative perception of E Numbers. However, many natural and harmless substances GET their own numbers. It is useful as a clear method of identification.

Can you have too many LNCS in your diet?


As part of the approval process for each LNCS, an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) level is set. The ADI is the estimated amount per kg of body weight that a person can consume, on average, every day, over a lifetime without risk. ADIs are set 100 times less than the smallest amount that may cause health concerns. For example, assuming the LNCS was used in the drink at the maximum permitted level, an adult would have to consume 14 cans of a sugar-free drink every day before reaching the ADI for aspartame.