Gluten-Free Artificial Sweeteners

Most Sugar Substitutes are Safe

glass container with artificial sweetener packets
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Many of us are avoiding sugar. But are the most commonly found artificial sweeteners safe when you're following the gluten-free diet because you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity?

As it turns out, most artificial sweeteners are considered gluten-free. However, that's not the end of the story for artificial sweeteners, at least for those with, well, digestive issues.

As it turns out, artificial sweeteners are considered to be one of the top triggers for irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. So while a product may be gluten-free, it may cause your symptoms that seem reminiscent of a glutening. That's just something you should keep in mind if you try an artificial sweetener and react badly to it. (Learn more: Is It IBS? Or Is It Gluten? How To Tell The Difference)

So Which Ones Are Gluten-Free?

Here's the list of commonly available artificial sweeteners (including the blue packets, the pink packets, and the yellow packets), along with what their manufacturers have to say about their gluten-free status:

  • Equal. You're probably most familiar with Equal in little blue packets, but this brand of sweeteners actually includes four different products: Equal Original (those blue packets), made from aspartame and acesulfame potassium; Equal sucralose; Equal saccharin; and Equal Next, made from aspartame and sodium saccharin. All are considered gluten-free and safe for people with celiac disease, according to the company. All Equal packets contain dextrose with maltodextrin as what's called a "bulking agent," or an additive to make the product seem more substantial (and more like sugar).
  • Splenda. This is an artificial sweetener made from sucralose, found in the little yellow packets. According to the company, Splenda and Splenda brand sweetener products do not contain any ingredients derived from wheat, barley, rye or oats, although "We do not test our finished products for the presence of gluten."
  • Sugar Twin. Sugar Twin, manufactured by B&G Foods, Inc., is made from saccharin, with added dextrose to make it appear more like sugar. According to the company, Sugar Twin products are gluten-free and are produced in gluten-free facilities.
  • Sweet'N Low. Found in those little pink packets on the table at nearly every restaurant, Sweet'N Low is a saccharin-based artificial sweetener. According to its manufacturer, Sweet'N Low does not contain any gluten, nor is it at risk for gluten cross-contamination during processing.

But What About Natural Sugar Substitutes?

Some people prefer to avoid artificial sweeteners, and for them, stevia is a sugar-free sweetening option. 

Stevia, also known by its scientific name Stevia rebaudiana, is a South American herb that's been used for centuries as a natural sweetener. It's 25 to 30 times as sweet as natural sugar (so not as potent as the artificial sweeteners), and it contains zero calories, zero carbs and has a glycemic index of zero.

Products made with stevia include:

  • Stevia in the Raw. This brand of stevia comes in packets, tablets, and larger quantities for baking and home use. It's considered gluten-free; the company states: "Stevia In The Raw contains no gluten nor does it come into contact with glutinous products, such as wheat, during its manufacture." Some versions of Stevia in the Raw include dextrose and maltodextrin, both derived from corn, according to the company.
  • Sweet Leaf. Sweet Leaf makes a wide variety of products, from sweet liquid drops to crystallized powders that more closely resemble sugar (for use in baking). According to the company, Sweet Leaf is gluten-free. It's also offered in an organic version. Sweet Leaf stevia contains inulin, a vegetable fiber that is gluten-free, but which can be a trigger for people who react to FODMAP foods (many people with IBS follow a low-FODMAP diet).
  • Truvia. This stevia-based sweetener comes in packets, a spoonable white sugar-like version, a brown sugar version and a version designed for baking. None contain any gluten, according to the company. The products contain erythritol, which is a form of sugar alcohol (with no calories). Although a few people report getting IBS-type symptoms from erythritol, most say it's fine if you're following a low-FODMAP diet.

    The Bottom Line

    As it turns out, you'll be pretty safe with nearly any brand of artificial sweetener or natural sugar substitute on the market.

    However, that doesn't mean you won't have digestive symptoms that may seem a lot like a gluten reaction (either from the sweetener itself or from other ingredients). Therefore, I advise treading cautiously with any sugar substitute until you see how your body reacts to any specific product.

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