With soaring levels of diabetes and obesity worldwide, there is increasing pressure on people to give up sugar. On average, Americans consume around 20 teaspoons of sugar [https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/truth-artificial-sweeteners#1]. The worst part is that most of these sugars are ‘hidden’ in beverages and treats. So, it’s not surprising that low carb, low sugar diets are popping up everywhere like the Atkins and Ketogenic diets. People are even giving up fruit juices because they claim there’s too much sugar in them, even though they are natural sugars. On the surface, artificial sweeteners seem to be any weight watcher’s best friend. They satisfy your sweet tooth without the calories in regular sugar. Some of the artificial sweeteners are even far sweeter than regular sugar (such as Saccharin, for example). Sounds like the best of both worlds, right? You’ll find artificial sweeteners in a myriad of beverages like soft drinks, fruit juices, chewing gum, baked treats, etc. 144 million Americans consumed low-calorie or sugar-free products on a regular basis, according to a 1998 survey conducted by the Calorie Council.[https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/truth-artificial-sweeteners#1]. So, you would likely have consumed at some point.
If you compare a 12-ounce serving of soda that’s been sweetened with sugar and the same amount of sugar-free soda that’s been sweetened artificially, the difference is almost 150 calories.
Approved Artificial Sweeteners
In the US, the FDA has approved the following artificial sweeteners:
Acesulfame potassium (Sunett)
Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
In the UK, the following artificial sweeteners have been approved:
Concerns and misconceptions over Artificial Sweeteners
Perhaps the earliest concern about artificial sweeteners was raised about Saccharin during World War I & II. There had been a shortage of sugar, so saccharin was developed as a substitute. It was almost prohibited by the FDA in the 1970s over concerns that saccharin had been linked to bladder cancer. This was based on a Canadian study which involved rats. However, these concerns and reports have now been largely dispelled which means that saccharin is now an approved artificial sweetener. Upon further tests, it turned out that the rats had a body pH that increased the likelihood of bladder cancer.
Another artificial sweetener that has a bad reputation is Aspartame. Aspartame has been blamed for almost everything, from brain cancer to fatigue. However, the only people who should actually be worried about Aspartame are sufferers of a condition known as PKU (phenylketonuria) which affects the metabolism of amino acids in people. For those affected by PKU, lower blood levels of phenylalanine can lead to neurological and behavioural problems, such as mental retardation.
Phenylalanine is one of the two constituent amino acids in Aspartame, so it can adversely affect those with PKU. For regular people, however, the FDA has approved Aspartame as a safe artificial sweetener.
Also considering the fact that Aspartame and Saccharin are so much sweeter than sugar, the dosages people need to and do consume, are quite small.
Though a small sample of people have reported side effects such as a bad stomach or headaches, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that Aspartame has adverse effects on regular people who consume normal dosages.
Stevia is also another artificial sweetener that has been accused of causing numerous negative side effects. Stevia is a natural sweetening agent that is derived from the Stevia plant, a plant native to South America. Stevia has been used as a sweetener for many years in both South America and Japanese cuisine.
Again, there is no conclusive evidence yet that stevia causes major health issues in regular people. But, there still needs to be more research done on Stevia and its effects on humans. Stevia has only been recently granted approval by the FDA, because it needed further research on the effects of Stevia on humans. So, it is reasonable that people have been sceptical about Stevia for all this time. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/artificial-sweeteners-sugar-free-but-at-what-cost-201207165030
It’s worth noting that large medical bodies such as the American Heart Association (AHA), American Diabetes Association (ADA), have approved the use of regulated artificial sweeteners to combat health issues like obesity, and diabetes. If artificial sweeteners can reduce someone’s caloric intake, there is a lower risk of them developing obesity, heart disease and diabetes. In other words, the benefits of artificial sweeteners helping people reduce their sugar and caloric intake outweighs some of the (often unfounded) health risks of using artificial sweeteners.
Other medical bodies that have approved the use of artificial sweeteners include Cancer Research UK and the US National Cancer Institute.
In the EU, all sweeteners are thoroughly tested and evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to ensure that they are safe for consumption. The EFSA comes up with an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI), which is the maximum daily dosage that is considered safe for human consumption.
One of the biggest concerns about artificial sweeteners is not that they cause adverse health issues, but that they can change our taste buds. Since artificial sweeteners are far sweeter than natural sugar, they can alter the way we taste food. They can overstimulate sugar receptors in our mouth, meaning that we may lose interest in foods that are naturally sweet such as honey or fruit which have plenty of essential nutrients. Vegetables, which are not sweet at all can be shunned by people consume too many artificially sweetened food and drink.
Artificial sweetness may also lead to disassociation between sweetness and calories in people’s minds, leading them to let their guard down around sweet foods.
There are also some studies that suggest that artificial sweeteners like Saccharin can be highly addictive. In a study, in which rats had to choose between cocaine and saccharin, most of the rats chose the saccharin.
So, as long as people consume reasonable amounts of artificial sweeteners and don’t overstimulate their taste buds, artificial sweeteners can be a great way to reduce calories without compromising sweetness. Also, much of the perceived negative effects of artificial sweeteners are outdated and have since been debunked (such as the association between saccharin and bladder cancer).