Artificial sweeteners have been a hot bed of science debate for decades. There’s so much to be said about it! But here is a quick bit of information that you should know about most common artificial sweeteners.
Saccharine AKA Sweet N’ Low was the first artificial sweetener discovered way back in 1879 while scientists were formulating chemical dyes from coal tar. I know, yum!
In the 70s, studies came up finding that saccharide causes bladder cancer in rats and so the government required a cancer warning on the label. They actually tried to take it off the market but the diet industry was making big bucks and they were not going to have any of that.
Fast forward into the 90s and studies begin to suggest that the bladder cancer effect is only in rodents, not human, and by the year 2000 the warning label was removed. However, the Center for Science in the Public Interest which is a non-profit watchdog and consumer advocacy group that advocates for safer and healthy foods, has saccharine on their avoid list. Saccharine lost a lot of its popularity because of the controversy.
The most common artificial sweetener on the market today is sucralose AKA Splenda. There’s a lot of talk how Splenda is safe and has been tested but since its discovery in 1976, it’s been subject of over 100 long and short-term animal and human studies. And expect for a couple highly questioned studies, no ill effects have been found so long as you aren’t eating a tub load of sucralose for dinner. The FDA approved it in 1998 and CSPA also agreed that it’s a safe, non-carcinogenic alternative to sugar.
Lastly is the big one: Aspartame. It’s found in so many products these days, from drinks to candy and gum, processed foods, jam, etc. Aspartame came about in the 60s when scientists were looking for ulcer treatments. It’s been widely studied since then.
The main thing you should know is that the cancer concerns comes mostly from a set of high profile studies done in Italy where they fed extremely high amounts of aspartame to rats throughout their lifespans.
The rats developed blood and breast cancers as well as kidney tumors which are extremely rare in rats, however the FDA rejected the studies on a rather vague round that they lacked important data and approved aspartame anyway.
As for studies on people, the largest study was done by the National Cancer Institute examining cancer rates in half a million adults. Between the groups that did and did not consume products with aspartame, there was no risk of increased cancer for those that did.
But the watchdog group argued that the study was incomplete. It didn’t include the very elderly, more people who had consume aspartame since childhood. Aspartame intake was also less reported which is a serious flaw when you consider the fact that a lot of the time people don’t know what’s in their food.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest gives aspartame the lowest food safety ranking and argues that its’ not safe for human consumption.
The bottom line seems to be sucralose is the safest for your consumption while aspartame and saccharine are questionable. If you’re going to consume them, maybe don’t do it too much. Also, if you’re using artificial sweeteners to lose weight, there’s a strong body research that suggest that it doesn’t help.
In fact across several large studies done at Yale for the National Institute of Health, people who use artificial sweeteners actually gained weight over time. They’re still trying to figure out why this happens. Scientists are also just now starting to study a new artificial sweetener touted as a natural alternative to sugar called stevia or truvia. For the limited studies that are out there, it looks like it can be safe and the CSPI statement seem more positive about the potential for stevia.