People who are trying to lose weight often replace sugar with artificial sweeteners. One of the most commonly used sweeteners today is called acesulfame potassium.
Like most sweeteners, acesulfame potassium is controversial.
While some studies say that artificial sweeteners are safe, others claim that they are harmful to your health and even cause weight gain (1).
This is a detailed review of acesulfame potassium and its health effects.
Acesulfame potassium — also known as acesulfame K, or ace K — is an artificial sweetener. In Europe, people sometimes refer to it as E950.
Manufacturers sell acesulfame potassium under the brand names Sweet One and Sunett.
Acesulfame works by stimulating the sweet-taste receptors on the tongue, so a person can enjoy the taste of sweetness without consuming sugar.
Interestingly, the body may not break down or store acesulfame potassium as it does with other food. Instead, the body absorbs it and then passes it, unchanged, through urine.
Acesulfame potassium is a highly versatile artificial sweetener that manufacturers use in a wide range of foods and drinks.
Unlike similar sweeteners, such as aspartame, it is stable when heated. Because of this property, many baked goods contain acesulfame potassium.
Examples of foods containing acesulfame potassium include:
- beverages, including soda, fruit juices, non-carbonated drinks, and alcohol
- tabletop sweeteners
- dairy products
- ice cream
- jam, jelly, and marmalade
- baked goods
- toothpaste and mouthwash
- chewing gum
- yogurt and other milk products
- breakfast cereals
- salad dressings and sauces
Some research says that acesulfame potassium may be harmful during pregnancy. However, there is little research into the safety of this sweetener during pregnancy, and a 2014 study states that people can eat small amounts during pregnancy (5).
However, despite these concerns, both the United States and Europe have declared acesulfame potassium as safe for use in humans. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that over 90 studies have confirmed that acesulfame potassium is safe (2).
The FDA recommend that acesulfame potassium is safe up to an acceptable daily intake of 15 mg per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight per day in the U.S. This is a very large quantity, around 23 tabletop sweetener packets.
Despite its acceptance in some countries, some academics remain critical of the decision to declare acesulfame potassium safe because they consider the toxicity data reported to date inadequate (6).
Research has found that artificial sweeteners cause only minimal changes in blood sugar levels, and sources say they are safe for people with diabetes (7).
Test tubes studies suggest that acesulfame potassium may increase the amount of sugar absorbed by cells from the gut (12).
In addition, one animal study from 1987 reported that injecting very high doses — 150 mg/kg of body weight — of acesulfame potassium directly into rats’ bloodstreams caused them to release large amounts of insulin (13).
In this experiment, the animals received large doses to the sweetener under unusual conditions, so researchers cannot apply these results to humans.
Human studies have not found that acesulfame potassium raises blood sugar or insulin, but studies on long-term use are lacking (14).
In the short term, acesulfame potassium does not raise human blood sugar or insulin. However, researchers do not know the long-term effects of frequent intake in humans.
One of the most serious claims about acesulfame potassium is that it could increase the risk of cancer.
In 1996, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) openly queried the quality of the science used to approve this sweetener for widespread use (15).
Scientists have tested whether acesulfame potassium could cause cancer using both test tubes and animals.
In test tubes, they look for signs that a substance could be “genotoxic,” which means that it could damage DNA and cause mutations that may lead to cancer. Many studies have failed to detect any signs of genotoxicity.
In 2005, the National Toxicology Program conducted one of the largest animal studies.
They gave mice up to 3% of their total diet as acesulfame potassium for over 40 weeks — the equivalent to a person drinking more than 1,000 cans of soft drinks each day. They found no evidence of an increased risk of cancer in the mice (16).
In summary, studies in test tubes and lab animals suggest that acesulfame potassium does not cause cancer. Although some disagree, major regulatory authorities have reached the same conclusion.
Critics have raised several other health concerns around artificial sweeteners, including acesulfame potassium.
For example, some think that a high daily intake of artificially sweetened drinks could cause premature delivery (17).
Animal studies suggest that consuming this sweetener during pregnancy could influence the offspring’s preference for sweet foods (5).
One long-term study in mice showed that acesulfame potassium has links to neurological disruptions and a decline in brain function (18).
However, researchers need to do more studies in humans before they can confirm whether it will affect people in the same way.
Some people may find it useful to include sweeteners in the diet, especially if they have a sweet tooth and already consume high amounts of sugar.
However, even though they may appear safe, scientists do not know the consequences of consuming them regularly for prolonged periods.
In summary, there doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason to avoid acesulfame potassium or any other artificial sweetener.
Some critics still maintain that the studies on acesulfame potassium are not good enough, and scientists cannot be confident that it will not cause harm in the long term.
At the same time, long-term animal studies have shown that they can tolerate very high doses and the FDA state that it is safe to consume acesulfame potassium.
When deciding whether to include a new food in your diet, including sweeteners, talking to a healthcare professional or a nutritionist can help.