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During the past few decades, there has been more and more negative press about sugar. Sugar was deemed a bad thing, and as its popularity declined, the popularity of artificial sweetener increased. But are artificial sweeteners safe?
Sugar is a complex carbohydrate that is linked as a contributor to obesity, diabetes, and other health problems. Over the last few years sugar was deemed a bad thing, and as its popularity declined, the popularity of artificial sweetener increased. Most of us have no idea about the details of artificial sweeteners. Are they safe? Where do they come from? What chemicals comprise them?



Aspartame

Commonly referred to as Equal or NutraSweet, this item is 200 times sweeter than sugar too. It has been called a neurotoxic substance that is associated with dizziness, visual impairment, seizures, muscle aches, numbing of extremities, depression, and birth defects.

Saccharin

This sugar substitute is up to 700 times sweeter than sugar but it has no calories. It is the most tested product on the market to date and is commonly called Sweet ‘N Low. Various studies have linked it to cancer but it was removed from the carcinogenic list in the U.S. in 2000.

Sucralose

Discovered in 1976 and approved by the FDA in 1998, this chemical sugar alternative is around 600 times sweeter than sugar. It is made by chlorination of sucrose and is commonly called Splenda. Studies to date are inadequate but some have linked it to thymus and immune dysfunction. Other studies report it as being mutagenic.

Stevia

This is artificial sweetener is commonly known as Truvia, one that is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. It was rejected by the FDA in 1990 but eventually gained acceptance in 2008. It comes from a natural plant origin but is commercially sold in a chemically altered form. Many natural food proponents consider it the ultimate safe sweetener.

Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol, and Xylitol

All of these substances are chemically known as ‘sugar alcohols’. They are only half as sweet as sugar and not well absorbed by the body. Unfortunately, they produce a laxative effect in large quantities.

Neotame

This is a substance that is chemically related to aspartame and is up to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. Although it was approved by the FDA in 2002, it is not widely used due to the known problems with aspartame.

Cyclamate

This was the original Sweet ‘N Low that was banned by the FDA in 1970. Animal studies have showed that this product is carcinogenic but a petition has been filed with the FDA for re-approval.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

This product has been around since the 1980s and is cheaper than sugar. Depending on the formulation, it may be sweeter -or at least just as sweet- as sugar. It is greatly linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.


Conclusion

While some sweeteners are recommended for weight loss and to control diabetes, new research exists that they actually encourage weight gain and sugar cravings. The bottom line is that it is hard to say that these products are unsafe, but in the same breath, it is hard to say that they are safe. It is probably just best to stick to the old saying: everything in moderation.

  • Eating Well. (2011). A buyer’s guide to sugar substitutes.
  • Ochel, E. (2009). Quick guide to artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes.
  • Photo courtesy of Steven Snodgrass http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass/5608101779/