Saccharin is an artificial, or nonnutritive, sweetener that is used in the production of various foods and pharmaceutical products including:
- Baked goods
- Chewing gum
- Tinned fruit
- Medicines and
It is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar), does not raise blood sugar levels and like all nonnutritive sweeteners has no calories.
However, it does have a bitter or metallic aftertaste, especially at high concentrations.
Saccharin is unstable when heated but does not react chemically with other food ingredients, which makes it good for storage.
The substance was first discovered in 1878 by researcher Constantin Fahlberg, who was working on coal tar derivatives in a laboratory at the John Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Use of the substance became widespread during the sugar shortages of World War I.
Its popularity further increased during the 1960s and 1970s among dieters as a result of its ‘calorie-free’ status.
Benefits of saccharin
Saccharin has numerous advantages, including:
Can be blended with other sweeteners
Saccharin is often blended with other artificial sweeteners to compensate for each sweetener’s weaknesses.
For example, it is commonly mixed with cyclamate in countries where both these sweeteners are legal, with each sweetener used to mask the other’s off-taste.
Blends of saccharin and aspartame are also often used in diet carbonated soft drinks to ensure that some sweetness remains in the event that syrup is stored beyond aspartame’s relatively short shelf-life.
Helpful to people with diabetes
Consumption of saccharin-sweetened products can benefit diabetics as the substance goes directly through the human digestive system without being digested. While saccharin has no food energy, it can trigger the release of insulin in humans due to its sweet taste.
Does saccharin raise blood sugar levels?
Although marketed as a ‘calorie-free’ sweetener, several recent studies have found that saccharin actually raises blood glucose levels. It is thought that these effects are due to changes in gut bacteria triggered by the sweeteners.
However, most of these studies have been conducted on mice, and those that have been conducted on humans have involved very small sample sizes.
Because of this, it’s difficult to draw solid conclusions from the research. However, most studies indicate that the sweetener stevia does not influence blood glucose levels , which makes it a viable option if you are concerned about the possible effects of saccharin.
Use of saccharin in human food has been plagued by safety concerns. During the early 1970s, studies on laboratory rats linked saccharin with the development of bladder cancer in rodents.
As a result, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pushed for a ban on saccharin use in the United States based on the Delaney Clause of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act enacted in 1958, which prohibits the addition to human food of any substances that induce cancer in humans or animals.
But following strong opposition to the ban from the general public (saccharin was the only artificial sweetener available at that time), the United States Congress intervened and allowed saccharin to remain in the food supply as long as all food containing the artificial sweetener was labelled with a health warning.
Since then, numerous human-based studies have concluded that the elevated bladder cancer risk found in rats does not translate to humans.
In 2000, the warning labels on saccharin-sweetened products were removed and in the following year, the FDA reversed its position on sacchari, declaring it safe for consumption.
Saccharin is now one of five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners, and is also an approved food additive in Europe and most countries around the world.
Possible side effects
While the association between saccharin consumption and bladder cancer risk has been disproved, many health groups still believe that its use should be limited in:
This is due to the possibility of allergic reactions.
Saccharin belongs to a class of compounds known as sulfonamides, which can cause allergic reactions in some individuals.
Reactions can include: