E954

Saccharin

  • Our verdict: 4 - we recommend avoiding
  • Origin: It is produced synthetically and does not come from natural sources.

E954, commonly known as saccharin, is an artificial sweetener used as a sugar substitute. It is known for its high sweetness, approximately 300-400 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). Saccharin contains no calories, making it a popular choice in diet foods and beverages.

It is produced through a series of chemical reactions that include the oxidation of o-toluenesulfonamide or the reaction of anthranilic acid with nitrous acid, sulfur dioxide, chlorine, and ammonia. This synthetic origin allows for large-scale production to meet the demand of the food and beverage industry.

Characteristics and uses in the food industry

Saccharin is used in food products for several reasons:

  • Intense sweetness: it provides sweetness at very low concentrations, which is economical.
  • Stability: It remains stable at high temperatures and over a wide pH range, making it suitable for cooking and baking.
  • Zero calorie: Suitable for low calorie and diet foods, helps in weight management and diabetes control.
  • Synergy with other sweeteners: Often used in combination with other sweeteners to mask unpleasant flavors and improve the overall flavor profile.

Use in ultra-processed foods

Saccharin is used extensively in ultra-processed foods due to its sweetness without adding calories. Here are some common applications:

  • Flavor enhancement: used to enhance flavor or mask bitter flavors without adding calories from sugar.
  • Long shelf life: Often used in processed foods due to its stability over a long period of time.
  • Influencing dietary habits: Products containing saccharin may be marketed as 'healthier alternatives'.

Effects on human health

Although saccharin is approved for use by various health authorities, there are some health risks:

  • Cancer: Early studies in the 1970s suggested a link between saccharin and bladder cancer in laboratory rats, leading to its temporary ban and subsequent requirement for warning labels. However, further research and reviews by health organisations, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), have shown that saccharin is not a human carcinogen, leading to the removal of these warnings.
  • Allergic reactions: some individuals may react allergically to saccharin, especially those who are sensitive to sulfonamides, as saccharin is a derivative of sulfonamides. These reactions include headaches, breathing difficulties, skin irritation, and diarrhea.
  • Digestive problems: Excessive consumption of saccharin can lead to digestive problems such as bloating, gas and diarrhea. It can also trigger a flare-up of IBS in susceptible individuals.
  • Obesity: When sweetness is not associated with calories, it confuses the body's regulatory systems, leading to mixed signals and making it difficult to control appetite, which can lead to overeating and subsequent weight gain.
  • Changes in the gut microbiota: When consumed in high amounts, saccharin has a negative effect on the gut microbiome. There is evidence to suggest that changes in the gut microbiota are associated with a higher risk of conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer.
  • Risk in pregnancy: saccharin is known to cross the placenta and may remain in fetal tissues.

Sources

  1. Uebanso, T., Ohnishi, A., Kitayama, R., Yoshimoto, A., Nakahori, M., & Takahashi, A. (2017). Effects of low-dose non-caloric sweetener consumption on gut microbiota in mice. Nutrients, 9(6), 560. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6843803/.
  2. National Cancer Institute (NCI). "Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer." Cancer.gov.
  3. World Health Organization (WHO). "Guideline: Sugar intake for adults and children". WHO.int.
  4. Diabetes.co.uk.(n.d.). Saccharin. Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.co.uk/sweeteners/saccharin.html.
  5. Fowler, S. P., Knüppel, A., Schiffman, S. S., & Rother, K. I. (2022). A narrative review of adverse health effects associated with sucralose. Nutrition Journal, 21, Article 23. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9029443/.
  6. Magnuson, B. A., Carakostas, M. C., Moore, N. H., Poulos, S. P., & Renwick, A. G. (2013). Biological fate of low-calorie sweeteners. Nutrition Reviews, 71(11), 725-735. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24681100/.
  7. Brigham and Women's Hospital.(n.d.). Substances of concern during pregnancy. Retrieved from https://www.brighamandwomens.org/obgyn/brigham-obgyn-group/patient-education/substances-of-concern-during-pregnancy.