Can you spot the artificial sweetener in these sugar-free foods?

Can you spot the artificial sweetener in these sugar-free foods?

This week, the World Health Organization is set to issue new guidance about aspartame, the most common artificial sweetener in diet sodas. But low- and no-calorie sugar substitutes aren’t just in diet beverages. They are in many grocery store staples and in nearly every aisle of the store. That includes products marketed as “healthy,” “no sugar added” and “low carb,” and customers often don’t know they are there.

“Looking at an ingredient list doesn’t give [people] the information they need to make good decisions because most people, regardless of education, do not know the names of artificial sweeteners,” said Fran Fleming-Milici, director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health at the University of Connecticut. In a recent Rudd survey of parents, more than 60 percent could not identify drinks that contained diet sweeteners, even when shown the information panel with nutrition and ingredient information.

The Food and Drug Administration has labeled dozens of sweeteners safe, but little is known about their long-term effects on the body. Scrutiny of these sweeteners will probably increase as Americans take a closer look at the ultraprocessed foods they eat every day.

Are you able to spot the sweetener in these common grocery store products? Find them below to learn more about the substances making their way into our food.

1 of 6

Del Monte no-sugar-added mandarin oranges in water

Select the 3 sweeteners in the ingredients list:

Mandarin orangesWaterSorbitolAcesulfame potassiumSucraloseCelluloseCitric acid

3 remaining

2 of 6

LC “low carb” plain English muffins

Select the 3 sweeteners in the ingredients list:

Wheat protein isolatesResistant wheat starchesFlax seed mealVital wheat glutenHeavy creamButter (pasteurized cream; natural flavors)Instant dry yeastInulin (chicory root) fiberSaltVinegarCalcium propionate (as a preservative)Organic steviaNatural luo han guo monk fruit

3 remaining

3 of 6

Pop Secret kettle corn

Select the 2 sweeteners in the ingredients list:

Whole grain popcornPalm oilIsomaltNatural and artificial flavorsSaltSoy lecithinSucraloseRosemary extract (to preserve freshness)Ascorbic acid (to preserve freshness)

2 remaining

4 of 6

Nuts ‘N More high-protein peanut spread

Select the 1 sweetener in the ingredients list:

PeanutsWhey protein isolateXylitolPeanut oilPalm oilFlaxNatural flavorSunflower lecithin

1 remaining

5 of 6

Happy Tot strawberry fruity sticks

Select the 2 sweeteners in the ingredients list:

Organic sorghum flourOrganic vegetable oil (organic sunflower oil and/or organic canola oil)Organic oat flourOrganic agave inulinOrganic tapioca flourOrganic skim milk powderOrganic apple powderOrganic strawberry powder (organic strawberry powder; organic rice flour)Organic cocoa butterOrganic sunflower lecithinNatural strawberry flavorAscorbic acid (vitamin C)Calcium carbonateMixed tocopherols (to preserve freshness)

2 remaining

6 of 6

Quest Nutrition’s Hero blueberry cobbler protein bar

Select the 3 sweeteners in the ingredients list:

Protein blend (milk protein isolate; whey protein isolate)AlluloseSoluble corn fiberPalm kernel oilWaterErythritolSodium caseinateButter (cream)Natural flavorsSea saltCinnamonPalm oilCarrageenanMalic acidVegetable juice concentrate (color)SucraloseLecithin (sunflower and/or soy lecithin)

3 remaining

Congrats, you found all the sweeteners!

There is a lack of scientific clarity about the safety of sugar alternatives, but the World Health Organization and other health authorities suggest avoiding them when possible. Consumers who want to eat healthier should look beyond the “healthy” and “low-sugar” labels on the front of the packaging and read the nutrition label to see what has been added to compensate for a reduction in sugar. Aside from table sugar, which is often called sucrose on nutrition labels, here are the most frequently used sweeteners to look for on ingredient lists.

Common sweeteners

  • Acesulfame potassium (also called acesulfame K or Ace-K)
  • Advantame
  • Allulose (also called D-Psicose)
  • Aspartame
  • D-Tagatose
  • Erythritol
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol
  • Monk fruit extract (also called Luo Han Guo fruit or swingle fruit extract)
  • Neotame
  • Saccharin
  • Sucralose
  • Stevia
  • Xylitol

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About this story

Top photo by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post. Product photography by Melina Mara.

Editing by Sandhya Somashekhar, Karly Domb Sadof and Kate Rabinowitz. Photo editing by Haley Hamblin. Design editing by Betty Chavarria. Copy editing by Grant Johnson.