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Archive for February 24th, 2011

While many tout either the positives or negatives of sugar, non-nutritive sweeteners create equal controversy. How safe are the contents of those pink, yellow, and blue packets consumed daily by millions?

Opponents of artificial sweeteners consider them worse than sugar and refer to them as toxic and dangerous. Some consider them addictive and claim that they cause the body to crave more sugar. Additionally, a few individuals may be sensitive to certain ingredients in those sweeteners. Accusations of a link between the use of cyclamates, a sugar-substitute of the 1960s, and bladder cancer heightened fear of cancer from all artificial sweeteners. According to the National Cancer Institute, evidence fails to link cancer risks to their use.

 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved five artificial sweeteners for human consumption.

  • Saccharin, in use for more than 100 years in the United States, is generally regarded as safe (GRAS). Sold as “Sweet and Low”, saccharin is 450 times sweeter than sugar. Moderate consumption appears safe, and more than 100 countries use this sweet substance. While some studies with rats found that saccharin increased appetite and weight gain, other studies failed to confirm increased weight in humans.
  • Aspartame, accidentally invented in the mid 1960s, is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Recognized trade names include Nutrasweet, Equal, and NutraTaste. People with phenylketonuria (PKU), a hereditary disease that can cause irreversible brain damage, must avoid this sweetener because it contains the amino acid phenylalanine.
  • Acesulfame-K, marketed under the trade names Sweet One, Sunette, and Sweet ‘n Safe, is 200 times sweeter than sugar. The “K” represents the chemical symbol for potassium. However, since acesulfame-K passes through the body unchanged, the potassium provides no health benefits.    
  • Sucralose, known by the trade name Splenda, received FDA approved for use in the US in 1998. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar. This unique sweetener, made from sugar derivatives, passes through the body undigested and unabsorbed.
  • Neotame, related chemically to Aspartame, is safe for those with PKU. It is 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. FDA approved neotame in 2002. It is not packaged under a brand name.

According to the American Dietetic Association, nonnutritive sweeteners are safe when used within the approved regulations. Although many times sweeter than sugar, they yield no calories. When replacing sugar, they lower incidents of tooth decay, lower caloric content of food, and decrease the glycemic index in food. The International Food Information Council maintains that non-calorie sweeteners aid in attempts to control weight. Studies with humans found that substituting Aspartame for sugar-sweetened products resulted in nearly a half-pound of weight loss per week.

For the majority of the population, the five approved sweeteners become a boost to those who need to cut sugar intake and lower calories. As always, use in moderation and enjoy.

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