What is acesulfame potassium?
Acesulfame potassium is a no-calorie sweetener that is used in foods and beverages to provide sweetness without the added calories contained in sugars. While some types of sweeteners are considered no-calorie (e.g., acesulfame potassium, monk fruit sweeteners, stevia sweeteners and sucralose) and others are low-calorie (e.g., aspartame), this category of ingredients is often collectively referred to as artificial sweeteners, high-intensity sweeteners, low-calorie sweeteners, low- and no-calorie sweeteners, nonnutritive sweeteners or sugar substitutes.
Originally developed by German researchers in 1967, acesulfame potassium was first approved for use in Europe in 1983. Five years later, in 1988, it was approved in the U.S. Today, it is often used in combination with other low- and no-calorie sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, to provide a more sugar-like taste than acesulfame potassium provides on its own.
Like other low- and no-calorie sweeteners, acesulfame potassium is intensely sweet. It is about 200 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar), so only small amounts are used to match the sweetness provided by sugar. Acesulfame potassium retains its sweetness at a wide range of temperatures and in many food-processing conditions, which allows it to be used as an ingredient in a variety of food products, including baked goods, beverages, candies, chocolates, dairy products, desserts, and more. When acesulfame potassium is used as an ingredient in a packaged food or beverage, it will appear in the ingredient list for that product as either Ace-K, acesulfame K, or acesulfame potassium.
Acesulfame potassium is also used as an ingredient in some tabletop sweeteners. The most common brand of sweetener in the U.S. that contains acesulfame potassium is Equal® Original.
What happens to acesulfame potassium after consumption?
Acesulfame potassium provides sweet taste quickly after it is consumed. Eventually, it is completely absorbed into our blood from the gut, filtered out by our kidneys, and rapidly excreted unchanged in urine—all within about 24 hours. Small amounts of acesulfame potassium can also be excreted in the breast milk of lactating women.
Is it safe to consume acesulfame potassium?
Acesulfame potassium is safe to consume. It has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 1988 and is one of eight low- and no-calorie sweeteners currently permitted for use in the U.S. food supply. Leading health authorities around the world, such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), and Health Canada have also found acesulfame potassium to be safe to consume.
How much acesulfame potassium is safe to consume?
The FDA sets an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) level for many food ingredients that it permits for use in foods and beverages. The ADI is the average daily intake over a lifetime that is expected to be safe based on significant research. It is derived by determining the no-observed-adverse-effect-level, or NOAEL, which is the highest intake level found to have no adverse effects in lifetime studies in animal models. The NOAEL is then typically divided by 100. Setting the ADI 100 times lower than the upper level found to have no adverse effects in toxicology studies adds a margin of safety that helps to ensure that human intakes will be safe.
The EFSA recognizes an ADI of 0–9 milligrams (mg) per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day for acesulfame potassium. The FDA and JECFA have each established an ADI of 0–15 mg/kg of body weight per day. Using the FDA ADI for acesulfame potassium, a person weighing 150 pounds (68 kg) would exceed the ADI if consuming more than 26 individual tabletop packets of a sweetener that contains acesulfame potassium every day over the course of their lifetime.
While precise measurements of total acesulfame potassium intake in the U.S. are limited, 1.8 mg/kg of body weight per day from beverages among U.S. adults is a conservative mean estimate of acesulfame potassium intake that has recently been reported. This level of intake is well below the FDA ADI. Globally, estimated acesulfame potassium intake from foods and beverages also remains well below the EFSA and JECFA ADIs. A 2018 scientific review found that studies conducted since 2008 raise no concerns for exceeding the ADI of the major low- and no-calorie sweeteners—including acesulfame potassium—in the general population.
Can acesulfame potassium cause cancer?
When concerns about the possibility of low-calorie sweeteners causing cancer surfaced in the early 1970s, the news gained the attention of governments, scientists, and the general public. Initial studies suggested that saccharin caused bladder cancer in male rats and might similarly affect humans. Through subsequent research, however, it was determined that saccharin does not cause cancer in humans. The biological mechanisms responsible for the development of cancer from saccharin consumption are specific to rats and do not apply to humans.
Since that time, scientists have continued to study potential associations between low-calorie sweeteners and cancer. A few studies over the decades have claimed to demonstrate that some types of low-calorie sweeteners cause cancer, prompting extensive reviews of the methods used to support such conclusions. Independent government and expert evaluations have repeatedly found these studies to be significantly flawed and not of the caliber to be considered in official safety assessments. Government agencies base their safety evaluations on the highest-quality scientific studies, and these studies have consistently shown that consuming low-calorie sweeteners does not cause cancer, nor does it increase the risk of developing cancer.
Can children consume acesulfame potassium?
Health and food safety authorities such as the EFSA, FDA and JECFA have concluded that acesulfame potassium is safe for adults and children to consume within the ADI.
Professional health organizations such as the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have issued recommendations for low-calorie sweetener intake among children. The AHA advises against children regularly consuming beverages containing low-calorie sweeteners, instead recommending water and other unsweetened beverages such as plain milk. One of the notable exceptions in the 2018 AHA science advisory is made for children with diabetes, whose blood glucose management may be benefitted by consuming low-calorie-sweetened beverages in place of sugar-sweetened varieties. Similarly, the AAP recognizes that consumption of low-calorie sweeteners by children older than two years of age may help reduce calorie intake (especially among children with obesity), incidence of dental caries, and glycemic response among children with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) do not recommend the consumption of low-calorie sweeteners or added sugars by children younger than two years of age. This DGA recommendation is not related to body weight, diabetes, or the safety of added sugars or low-calorie sweeteners, but is instead intended to avoid infants and toddlers developing a preference for overly sweet foods during this formative phase.
Can pregnant women consume acesulfame potassium?
Consuming acesulfame potassium within the ADI is safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding according to the EFSA, FDA, and JECFA. The FDA approved the use of acesulfame potassium without restrictions for any segment of the population. Pregnant women, however, should consult with their healthcare providers regarding their nutrition, including the use of low- and no-calorie sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium.
Can people with diabetes consume acesulfame potassium?
Recent consensus statements by experts in nutrition, medicine, physical activity, and public health cite the neutral effects of low-calorie sweeteners, including acesulfame potassium, on hemoglobin A1C, fasting and post-prandial glucose, and insulin levels, and conclude that the use of low-calorie sweeteners in diabetes self-care may contribute to better glycemic management.
Global health professional organizations have published their own conclusions on the safety and role of low-calorie sweeteners for people with diabetes. The 2022 American Diabetes Association Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes state that, “For some people with diabetes who are accustomed to regularly consuming sugar-sweetened products, nonnutritive sweeteners (containing few or no calories) may be an acceptable substitute for nutritive sweeteners (those containing calories, such as sugar, honey, and agave syrup) when consumed in moderation. Nonnutritive sweeteners do not appear to have a significant effect on glycemic management, but they can reduce overall calorie and carbohydrate intake as long as individuals are not compensating with additional calories from other food sources.” Similar statements addressing the safety and potential use of low- and no-calorie sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium for people with diabetes are supported by Diabetes Canada and Diabetes UK.
Despite these conclusions, some studies raise questions about low-calorie sweeteners and blood glucose management. Some observational studies have demonstrated an association between low-calorie sweetener consumption in diet beverages and risk for type 2 diabetes; however, observational studies do not prove cause and effect. Conclusions from observational study designs are at risk for reverse causality and confounding. For instance, many studies do not adjust for obesity status, a direct contributor to developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Given that individuals with overweight and obesity tend to consume more low-calorie-sweetened beverages as compared with leaner individuals, this is a critical omission.
Does acesulfame potassium contribute to tooth decay?
There are many factors involved in tooth decay, including the amount of sugar consumed, the stickiness of food consumed, frequency of consumption, and daily oral hygiene. Like other low- and no-calorie sweeteners, acesulfame potassium does not contribute to tooth decay. Bacteria in the mouth do not feed on acesulfame potassium and therefore do not convert it into plaque or harmful acids that cause tooth decay.
What’s the bottom line?
Acesulfame potassium has been FDA-approved as a food additive for more than three decades, and its safety has been repeatedly acknowledged by many international health authorities. All types of foods and beverages, including those made with acesulfame potassium, can have a place in a variety of healthy eating patterns. Choosing foods and beverages sweetened with low- and no-calorie sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium is one way to reduce consumption of added sugars and keep calories in check—both are important components in maintaining good health.