The Short Answer on Artificial Sweeteners
Does anyone remember back in the day when everyone feared the neon pink packets of Sweet N’ Low? I think it was back in the ’70’s when a study came out saying that saccharin caused bladder cancer in rats. After that people freaked out and stopped using Sweet N’ Low. (I wonder how much money that company lost?) I still have a slight aversion to those little pink packets…even though I know rat cancer doesn’t equal human cancer. Oh well. Now Sweet N’ Low has about a million competitors out there – Splenda, Stevia, Truvia, Equal, NutraSweet, etc. All different variations of some no- or low-calorie compound. And all receiving the same crazy media attention. One day they’re a genius diet-friendly idea and the next day they lead to cancer and depression.
So how are you supposed to decide whether or not to use them? Well, let’s start with figuring out exactly what they are: “Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes but may be derived from naturally occurring substances, including herbs or sugar itself.”2 Artificial sweeteners are found in just about any type of processed food these days: ice cream, baked goods, beverages and even ketchup and salad dressing. It’s important to read the label on all foods to see if they contain them. (They will most likely not be listed by their brand name, so check out this table for their scientific name).
Even with frequent bad press, artificial sweeteners actually have some advantages. Due to their low or no calorie nature, they may help you lose or maintain weight. That being said, just because the ice cream in your freezer is sugar-free doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any calories. So you can’t eat half the container. Artificial sweeteners have also been proven to be pretty handy for diabetics – allowing them to enjoy foods that once were too high in sugar for them. But besides that…there aren’t any huge, ground breaking advantages to using artificial sweeteners.
However, many people claim there are tons of side effects and problems associated with the use of artificial sweeteners. The main issue being cancer. But I’ll start right off by saying multiple health professionals and organizations including the National Cancer Institute have said that artificial sweeteners have not been proven to cause cancer. The FDA looks at hundreds of studies before recommending if different food products are safe. So far, the FDA says that artificial sweeteners are safe and do not cause cancer when consumed under the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI).1 Depending on the sweetener, the ADI is anywhere from 5 mg/kg of body weight to 18 mg/kg of body weight. That’s a TON of sweetener…like cups full. So at this point, there is no association between adverse side effects including cancer and the intake of artificial sweeteners when consumed under the recommended ADI.3
So, is it safe to use artificial sweeteners? The short answer is yes. I personally go back and forth on the subject, but generally I do use them. However, with that said, I only use them in my a.m. cup of coffee. I don’t bake with them and usually do not purchase highly processed foods and beverages they are generally found in. And like most things, I use them in moderation. And as the name implies, they’re artificial. And I don’t 100% trust artificial foods enough to eat them in mass quantities. My recommendation is use your low-cal sweetener every now and again. Try enjoying foods for their natural sweetness instead of relying on sugar or other sweeteners. If you want more information search for your preferred no-calorie sweetener at one of these trusted sources of nutrition information.
You tell me! Do you use artificial sweeteners? Or do you stick with natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup?