Artificial Sweeteners: Good or Bad?

Health & Wellness

December 25, 2017

Sweeteners that contain zero to little calories are also known as artificial or nonnutritive sweeteners, as they provide no nutrition. Despite the lack of nutrients, they may serve as a healthier alternative to sugar. As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I work with bariatric patients at Indiana University Health, to help them lose weight in preparation for surgery. In addition to being followed by a team, patients also receive individualized nutrition counseling post-operatively. We work together to identify barriers and solutions throughout their weight loss journey.

For me, it’s a personal win to see my patients discover that eating healthy can be easy. We work together to find healthier alternatives to their favorite foods. I love being able to help people integrate nutrition, fitness, and wellness to create long lasting lifestyle changes.

Since these sweeteners do not provide extra calories, they tend to be a popular alternative for patients with diabetes or looking to lose weight. Because these alternatives are much sweeter, only small amounts are needed, as they are not fully absorbed by your digestive system. Regulatory agencies set the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) levels for each product. At this moment, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of the following sweeteners as safe: stevia, saccharin, acesulfame-K, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose.

1) Stevia: This plant based sweetener is all natural, contains zero calories, and is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia has been reviewed to be safe for human consumption.

2) Saccharin: Many years ago, studies found a link between saccharin consumption and bladder cancer, however, research has now concluded this applies to rats and not humans. Saccharin is also considered to have been around the longest. This type is heat stable, meaning it can be used for baking.

3) Acesulfame-K (Ace-K): This has been tested in amounts higher than any person could potentially intake, resulting in no evidence of cancer or tumors. This combination of potassium and organic acid is nearly 200 times sweeter than regular sugar.

4) Aspartame: Made of up phenylalanine and aspartic acid, two amino acids, it cannot be consumed by those with the rare condition called phenylketonuria (PKU). People with this condition cannot metabolize the phenylalanine which is why a warning label is placed on all products containing aspartame. This sweetener is considered safe, and has been concluded to not cause cancer or have any adverse side effects on the brain.

5) Neotame: Similar to aspartame, this product also comes from phenylalanine and aspartic acid. It has been reported to be 7000-8000 times sweeter than sugar. Neotame is safe for consumption.

6) Sucralose: 600 times sweeter than sugar, despite being made from actual sugar (sucrose), this type is heat stable, meaning it can be used in cooking.

The bottom line: Artificial sweeteners are proven to be safe when consumed by humans, and can offer as a great substitute to sugary beverages such as soda and other sweets.

-- By Katie Hake, RD
Indiana University Health

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