We’ve determined that simply avoiding a sugar because it is a sugar has no real scientific foundation. One problem with sugars, however, is that many products add an extremely high amount of sugar to sweeten the products.
This, in turn, causes the product to be higher in calories. Because consuming more calories means you must expend more calories to reduce or manage your weight, this can be of concern. The alternative to using a natural or refined sugar is to use a reduced calorie sweetener.
There are five major reduced calorie sweeteners on the market today. These are Acesulfame Potassium (Acesulfame-K), Aspartame, Saccharin, Stevia, and Sucralose. Are these products the answer to your woes?
No-calorie sweeteners currently used in foods include saccharin, aspartame and acesulfame-K. Saccharin is about 300 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose). It`s used in several brands of table-top sweeteners, in canned foods and in low-calorie soft drinks.
Artificial sweeteners must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in foods or as a table-top sweetener before they can be used by food processors or marketed for sale. Ingredient labels list any artificial sweeteners in a product.
Acesulfame-K (ace-K) was introduced in 1967. It is 200 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose). According to studies, this sweetener is not absorbed in the body but passes through unchanged. How many studies? Around 90 studies have been conducted on this sweetener, with no documented health risks. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), however, reports that the product can break down to acetoacetamide. This chemical has been shown to affect the thyroid in rats, rabbits, and dogs. Administration of 1% and 5% acetoacetamide in the diet for three months caused benign thyroid tumors in rats.
Aspartame was introduced in 1965. It is a low-calorie sweetener that is also 200 times sweeter than sucrose. Aspartame loses flavour in foods when heated. Although aspartame contains 4 calories per gram, the amount used is minute, so aspartame generally adds less than 1 calorie to a product per serving. Aspartame is made from two amino acids (the building blocks of protein): L-phenylalanine and L-aspartic acid. More than 200 studies have been performed and the only documented health risks are to people who suffer from phenylketonuria (PKU), who cannot metabolize the L-phenylalanine. This is why there is a PKU warning on any product that contains aspartame. While there are no conclusive, formal, documented cases of adverse health affects, many people report headaches after consuming products that contain aspartame. There is a large body of literature documenting adverse health issues arising from aspartame use. Other adverse affects that consumers have reported (but have not been independently verified) include seizures, dizziness, tremors, migraines, memory loss, slurring of speech, confusion, fatigue, depression, nausea, and worse. Because children lack a barrier of protection that prevents the wrong nutrients from entering the brain (which adults have), some doctors have recently suggested that aspartame should not be given to children.
Saccharin was discovered 100 years ago. It is a low calorie sweetener. It is one of the most studied ingredients in the food supply. More than 30 human studies have been conducted with saccharin, and no adverse health effects have been reported. In 1997, a study using rodents reported a rise in bladder tumors, although this may be related to an increase in sodium and other products that were contained in the experimental diet. The CSPI reports several studies that may indicate a rise in tumor activity that correlates to saccharin intake.
Stevia is a plant that originated in the rainforests of Paraguay. It is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, does not impact blood sugar and has zero calories. The leaves have been used for over 1,500 years by the Guarini Indians of Paraguay. It was discovered and introducd to Europe by M. S. Bertoni in 1899. While Stevia has since become a very popular sweetener because it is natural, the FDA has yet to approve it as a food source it remains classified as a dietary supplement.
Sucralose (Splenda) is a non-caloric sweetener made from sugar. It was discovered in 1976. A sugar molecule is modified to replace a hydroxyl (water) group with a chloride (chlorine) group. This creates a product on average 600 times sweeter than table sugar, which theoretically will pass through the body without being metabolized. Over 100 studies have been conducted using sucralose in order to approve it as a food additive.
Are these sweeteners really worth it?
While there are many anecdotal reports of negative side effects, none of these have been confirmed through scientific investigation. In contrast, there is no anecdotal evidence whatsoever linking consumption of natural sugars such as fructose, honey, lactose, etc. with cancers, tumors, headaches, or other problems other than diabetes. Many diabetics use the glycemic index to control their food intake, and virtually many natural (unrefined) sugars fall within acceptable ranges for consumption based on those guidelines.