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For decades, controversy has persisted about the safety of non-caloric sweeteners (NCS). For many who attempt to lose or maintain weight, they are a god-send. Organizations, such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Diabetes Association, and American Heart Association, support their benefits in weight-loss. Through the years many artificial sweeteners, for example cyclamates, have come and gone. Today, the most recognizable NCS include pink packets of saccharin (Sweet’N Low®), blue packets of aspartame (Equal®), and yellow packets of sucralose (Splenda®).

The public’s first experience with artificial sweeteners began soon after the discovery of saccharin in the late 1880s. Its use became widespread during the sugar shortage of World War I. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of aspartame in 1981 and sucralose in 1998.

Periodically, groups or individuals claim that non-nutritive sweeteners cause harmful health conditions. A 12-week study in 2008 found that sucralose reduced helpful bacteria in the intestines and limited benefits of certain oral drugs in rats. More recent reports, many based on the 2008 research, state that sucralose is carcinogenic and alters blood-glucose. Numerous health professionals disagreed with the findings and claim that critical areas of the initial study were flawed.

Research published in September 2014 looked at potential health problems with the artificial sweeteners aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin. The study concluded that all three sweeteners may elevate blood-sugar levels in some people but not others, possibly release cancer-forming properties when heated, and affect helpful bacteria in the gastrointestinal track. However, even the researchers cautioned that their results were not conclusive enough to make recommendations on consumption of artificial sweeteners. That did not keep the media from spreading the word that non-nutritive sweeteners were unsafe. The “Food Insight” blog, published by the International Food Information Council Foundation, summarized what many nutrition professionals expressed about this study. The author, Matt Raymond, compared the research to “a big nothing-burger with an extra helping of skepticism. . . served up with warmed-over hysteria.” In other words, it was a sensational news story with little to no helpful information.

How do NCS affect weight? One study maintained that compared to sucrose (sugar), saccharin and aspartame caused more weight-gain. However, a review of numerous studies from 1976 to mid-2013 found that those on NCS lost more body weight than control groups who used regular-calorie sweeteners. Substituting non-nutritive sweeteners for sugars did not cause weight gain, and researchers concluded that they may prove helpful in weight loss or weight maintenance programs.

Are artificial sweeteners helpful or harmful? Most health professionals support using artificial sweeteners to help control weight. Until researchers conduct longer, more conclusive studies, enjoy your favorite artificially-sweetened foods with confidence you are safely consuming fewer calories.

 

 

 

 

 

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