Over the past hundred years, a number of elements have been detected—nearly all of them unexpected, by the way—that supplies sweetness without the calories. But are they safe? In the long run, do they do any good? Here is a look at the three most broadly used sweeteners; saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose.
Saccharin was found in 1879, and by early part of 1900 it was used as a substitute for sugar in the diets of those who had diabetes. With hardly any calories, no metabolic by-products, and sweetness about four hundred times that of sucrose, saccharin was the sole non-nutritive sweetener that was available in the U.S. up to the 1970s. Up to today, it is still being added to many different products and is the sweetener that is found in Sweet’ N Low.
Saccharin created controversy during the 1970s when it was announced that high amounts were connected with an increases risk of bladder cancer in rats. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggested that saccharin be taken off the market, but in reply to public protest Congress put the ban on hold in 1977. Other research that followed failed to demonstrate a risk of bladder cancer or any other type of cancer among people who used the sweetener. In addition, the rats had been given an extensive daily doses of sodium saccharin—on a dose-per-weight basis, the average adult would need to gulp up hundreds of cans of diet soft drinks every day to consume an equivalent amount. Further evidence suggested that sodium instead of the saccharin in sodium saccharin was to be blamed for the tumors. Time and again, Congress extended the suspension on the FDA’s suggested saccharin ban, until the FDA dropped its request in 1991.
While feasible evidence reveals that saccharin is safe when consumed in limited amounts, the FDA has suggested a recommended dose for this sweetener at 5mg kg of body weight per day. For an average 150lb adult, this is equivalent to 350mg of saccharin—approximately the amount in ten packets of Sweet’ N Low.
Aspartame was found (also by accident) in the 1960 and made known in 1981 after thorough human and animal studies. Approved for use in more than ninety countries, it is found in more than five thousand products and is the sweetener in Equal and NutraSweet. Aspartame has two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, in a form which, when digested, produce these two molecules in addition to methanol. The amino acids are building blocks of commonly occurring protein, and methanol is found in foods in amounts bigger than those produce by typical doses of aspartame.
Those who have the metabolic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU), which happens in about one in nine thousand individuals, do not metabolize phenylalanine normally. They must cap their consumption of phenylalanine in order to prevent a build-up in the body that can cause mental deterioration or permanent brain damage. Products that have aspartame carry a warning for people with PKU, who needs to limit their use or avoid them entirely. The recommended intake of aspartame for a person who hasn’t been diagnosed with PKU is 50 mg kg of body weight. For an average 150 pound person, this is equivalent to 3,500mg, the amount in about one hundred packets of Equal.
Aspartame has been the body of an active campaign blaming it for an array of symptoms and diseases. These include migraines, blurry vision, dizziness, confusion, fatigue, seizures, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and brain tumors. Nevertheless, no professional organization has found these allegations plausible. Both physiology and research findings dispute strongly against the width and severity of these hazards.
Sucralose is the only artificial sweetener derived straight from sucrose, which is your typical table sugar. It is made by swapping chlorine molecules for three of the hydro-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule, resulting in a mixture that is five hundred times as sweet as sugar but is not digested absorbed by the intestine. Moreover, it remains stable at very hot temperatures, so that it can be utilized in products that are cooked or baked. Sold as the sweetener Splenda, it has been approved to be used in many different foods. So far, sucralose has not received any warning labels from the FDA or from health-regulatory organizations in more than twenty countries, based on more than ninety studies over a twenty-year period. As with other sweeteners, critical warnings about sucralose may be found online, though not from respected sources.
One important question to keep in mind: Is there a long-term benefit to consuming products that contain artificial sweeteners or to adding them in your hot drinks in place of sugar? The two main reasons would be to decrease the intake of calories for a person who is trying to lose weight and to limit sugar intake for those who are diabetic. Both of those are respectable goals, but they may be weakened by other choices on the kitchen table. A number of research have suggested that some dieters may rob Peter to pay Paul by decreasing calories at one meal but adding many more elsewhere. Moreover, diabetics who are trying to prevent an increase in blood glucose by abstaining from sugar need to understand that other unsweetened nutrients can also have a severe impact on blood glucose. Furthermore, just because a food is labeled as sugar-free doesn’t guarantee that it does not contain other ingredients that are not good for you.
An artificial sweetener presents itself as being safe when used in moderation, despite the alarms going off on the internet. Nevertheless, whether sweeteners propose long-term benefits to those on a diet or who are diabetic is questionable, and no one can be entirely certain of their effects when used for a long period of time.