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The Not-So-Sweet Facts on Artificial Sweetners

Monday, April 11, 2011

Katrina Heisler
Monday, April 11, 2011

Photo: Courtesy of Suat Eman

From the days the “S” word became a threat in the dieter’s world, and we’re talking sugar here, the search for the perfect substitute has been endless. There is practically a rainbow of artificial sweeteners on shelves throughout grocery shops nationwide. From the pink packets of Sweet’N Low, to yellow packets of Splenda, just what is behind these sweeteners? Are they safe? Is one better than the other? And are they truly effective for weight loss?

Regular, caloric sugar is composed of primarily sucrose or high fructose corn syrup. Artificial, calorie-free sweeteners use substitutes to replace the sugary taste in many of your favorite foods with aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia, Ace-K, and neotame. Sounds a lot more complicated doesn’t it? Sweet’N Low, made of mostly saccharin, has only 1/8 calorie per teaspoon versus sugar's 15, but is nearly 300 times sweeter than the natural stuff. Aspartame, a popular ingredient in sweeteners, such as Equal, has 24 calories per teaspoon, and is 180 times sweeter than sugar. Derived from the amino acids L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine, aspartame has a slightly less chemical taste than saccharin, which is the result of a chemical reaction that produces methyl anthranilate. Finally, the most recognizable artificial sweetener, Splenda is probably the closest tasting to real sugar and is composed of sucralose, which is nearly 600 times sweeter! Yikes!

Aside from the noticeable taste difference in many diet foods that use artificial sweeteners many buyers have been hesitant due to increasing safety concerns. Through research and studies some of the artificial sweeteners have been linked to cancer. Nearly thirty years ago research conducted with laboratory rats resulted in the development  of cancer. Despite this scare there is little evidence that this sweetener actually causes harm to humans and remains a popular tabletop component. Aspartame, a popular sweetener in diet sodas, has also been linked to increased headaches and neurologic problems. The Women’s Health Magazine article Which is Better? Artificial Sweeteners or Sugar?  suggests avoiding foods with this sweetener if you are especially prone to headaches and migraines, as scientists believe that the phenylalanine in aspartame negatively affects neurotransmitters in the brain. The FDA has established a recommended daily maximum intake with out risking any adverse side effects. As a precaution, the FDA states that A 150-pound adult can ingest eight and a half packets of Sweet'N Low, 87 packets of Equal or NutraSweet, or 25 packets of Splenda daily.

Now, it may seem like you’re cutting out the calories of sugar so weight loss should be simple right? Wrong. Believe it or not, studies have been shown that dieters using artificial sweeteners may in fact gain weight. Using these faux sugars confuses our bodies and leads to increased cravings for the real thing because certain hormones that signal satiety may not be triggered as they would if you had eaten real sugar. While the negative effects of regular sugar will have a worse effect on your health (i.e. increasing blood sugar and risk for diabetes) than the risk of craving an extra piece of chocolate, the overall consensus is that any “sugars” have pros and cons. So if you are going to be more satisfied and happy eating a cookie for dessert than munching on the impersonator sweets, go ahead! After all, one cookie never hurt anybody!

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