What You Should Know
Artificial sweeteners are often used as substitutes for sugar in foods and beverages. Sugar increases energy and provides a source of calories. Both natural and artificial sugar substitutes exist. The most common natural sugar substitute is stevia, an herb common to the south. There are several common synthetic or artificial sweeteners on the market today. Artificial sweeteners contain fewer calories than sugar and are much more concentrated. Those with diabetes also favor artificial sweeteners as they do not alter blood glucose levels the same way sugar does.
List of Ingredients
The most popular and widely-used artificial sweeteners are aspartame, saccharin, cyclamate, and sucralose. Sucralose is significantly different than the first three as it is chemically altered from a form of sugar whereas the others are synthetically manufactured.
There is significant controversy surrounding all of the above artificial sweeteners. Some studies have shown that they can cause serious side effects with constant use, including cancers and ulcers. Aspartame in particular, has been under the FDA gun and has been on the verge of being banned for several years due to its possible connection to brain cancer. Saccharin was banned in many countries including Canada after a 1960 clinical study showed that it significantly increased the incidence of bladder cancer in rats. It was later discovered that the bladder cancer occurred through a process that does not happen in humans. Saccharin still remains available in the United States today. It is often found combined with other sweeteners as it has a bitter aftertaste.
Of most interest to those trying to lose weight are several studies suggesting that the continued use of artificial sweeteners may result in weight gain rather than weight loss. Artificial sweeteners signal incoming energy and the body releases insulin to meet it. Some clinical studies suggest that if the insulin doesn’t encounter the expected sugars, the body will want to consume more sugars at the next meal. These studies, however, have been contradicted by others with the opposite conclusion.
- Provide fewer calories than sugar.
- Can help diabetics eat a more diverse menu.
- Questions remain about the safety of artificial sweeteners.
- More expensive than sugar.
- Cannot use most artificial sweeteners in baking.
The debate about the usefulness and safety of artificial sweeteners will most likely continue for years until more conclusive studies come up with a definitive answer. In the meantime, artificial sweeteners can be found in everything from cookies to ice cream to sodas. They can reduce caloric intake for those who are on calorie-reduced diets but who still crave sweets.