Artificial sweeteners: How sweet it is?

“Nutritive” sweeteners: sweeteners that provide energy (calories). These include sugar, brown sugar, molasses, agave nectar, “raw” sugar, corn syrup, honey and maple syrup. All of these are metabolized similarly and will break down to glucose and provide energy.

Sugar alcohols: an in-between category. They are listed on the food labels as Sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, erythritol and maltilol. Frequently used in sugar-free gum, candies and desserts, they provide about half the energy (calories) than sugar, because of decreased digestibility. They may give the consumer gastrointestinal discomfort and loose stools when used in larger quantities, up to 50 grams.

“Non-nutritive” sweeteners: low or no-calorie artificial sweeteners that provide little energy. These include aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet’N Low), stevia (Truvia), acesulfame-K (Sweet One) and neotame. Derived from naturally occurring substances, herbs and even sugar, they are 200–600 times sweeter than sugar, so they can be used in much smaller quantities to provide adequate sweetness. Additionally, since they do not have carbohydrates they do not raise blood sugar levels or promote tooth decay.

Safety of non-nutritive sweeteners: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approves and regulates artificial sweeteners, along with all food, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics and biologics. Since 1958, new food additives undergo a strict premarket approval process by the FDA, which also determines the acceptable daily intake (ADI).

Do artificial sweeteners cause cancer? No laboratory studies of non-nutritive sweeteners have shown evidence of an association with increased cancer risk in humans. The 1970’s study that raised concern over saccharin’s cancer-causing properties has since been disproved. Bladder cancer found in male rats in that study was a result of a mechanism that doesn’t occur in humans. In laboratory studies, the dose of artificial sweetener is typically greatly inflated in relation to the normal (or estimated daily intake EDI) usage by people.

So use artificial sweeteners, as with anything else, in moderation. Strive to have a balanced diet with as much whole, natural foods as you are able.

By Anne Bechtel, RD, LD
Ridgeview Bariatric & Weight Loss Center