Over the past several decades, many laboratory-made compounds have been introduced into the American market as substitutes for the universally appealing “sweet” taste of sugar. These products, known as artificial sweeteners, can be synthetic (not occurring in nature), or natural (extracted from fruits, etc.).
The majority of sugar substitutes approved for food use are artificially synthesized. The six major highly-sweet sugar substitutes approved for food use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are: saccharin (synthesized), aspartame (synthesized), acesulfame potassium (synthesized), sucralose (synthesized), neotame (synthesized), and stevia (natural). All have an FDA classification of “Generally Regarded as Safe” (GRAS).
The health benefits and risks of consuming artificial sweeteners in our diets have been debated since these products started to come on the market. One school of thought argues for the positive aspects of artificial sweeteners, namely:
1. Prevention of tooth decay —
Non-friendly bacteria exist in our mouths and on our teeth. As these bacteria consume sugar, they convert it to acid waste that in turn decays the tooth structure. In the consumption of artificial sweeteners, this problem is avoided.
2. Diabetes —
Individuals with diabetes must regulate their blood sugar. By consuming artificial sweeteners instead of sugar in their diet, they can maintain lower blood sugar levels and enjoy more types of food.
3. Cost —
Because they are many times sweeter than sugar, artificial sweeteners are a cheaper alternative for sweetening foods.
4. Weight Loss —
Expert views fall into two categories on the subject of weight control: sugar is a carbohydrate, adding calories to our bodies, which in turn adds weight. Artificial sweeteners have no calories, so no weight is gained through their consumption.
Others, on the other hand, have argued that artificial sweeteners produce a disconnect between our brain and our stomach, increasing appetite and causing consumers to actually eat more (and put on weight).
As occurs with the development of all non-natural chemical compounds, there has been skepticism as to the health safety of artificial sweeteners. In addition to the FDA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Toxicology Program (NTP), has conducted multiple studies to determine the safety of these artificial sweeteners. The result? No human toxicity found.
That is by no means to say that artificial sweeteners are completely safe. The FDA has stated clear safety guidelines.
There are some studies that have outlined different health risks at higher doses and for extended periods of time, while other studies point to dangers in mixing different artificial sweeteners.
An acceptable daily intake (ADI) for each artificial sweetener has been established. The ADI is the amount of artificial sweetener that can be consumed daily and ongoingly, without substantive evidence of compromised health.
There are both pros and cons to the consumption of artificial sweeteners. As for the results of studies, most of which to date have been done on animals (or short-term on humans), while the results have been mixed, the focus should be on the risks, as a growing number of individuals attest to their dangers and side effects.
Be certain to quantify the amount of artificial sweeteners entering your body and to maintain levels below the ADI guidelines of the FDA. Use the table above as a guide and pay close attention to the FDA labels on foods.
Also, remember that artificial sweeteners can affect everyone differently. While most people report little or no side effects from moderate consumption, some say that even one can of diet soda will set off symptoms of toxicity or adverse reactions, which can include: headaches, anxiety, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, weight gain, sugar cravings, lethargy, insomnia, and unexplained skin rashes.
Thousands of users have taken the time to register complaints with governmental agencies, including the FDA, about artificial sweeteners over the years. Many people have also written in some detail about their bad experiences on different online blogs.
If the side effects are mild, and you suspect that your sweetener is behind them, try different sweeteners separately to determine which are causing what side effects. For example, if you experience headaches or fatigue two hours after every Diet Coke, it could be the aspartame or acesulfame potassium (it contains both).
Also, try not to mix different sweeteners. The combined effect may cause unexplainable adverse results.
Take a look at new FDA and NTP studies being conducted. The safety status of these artificial sweeteners can change at any moment.
Many individuals argue that stevia is the safest artificial sweetener because it’s natural and is derived from a plant; but remember that not all plants are healthy. Poison ivy is natural, but they don’t make hand lotion with it. Stevia has the lowest approved ADI of the sweeteners profiled here.
The alternative to using the above sweeteners is, of course, to cut down on sugar and consumption of sweets drastically, and use natural raw sugar, honey, or other all-natural, minimally processed sweeteners, less frequently and in smaller amounts.
By Marc Courtiol