The Great Debate: Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners (also known as low-calorie sweeteners, sugar substitutes, or non-nutritive sweeteners) contain fewer calories and carbohydrates than regular sugar, making them useful to diabetics and others who wish to curb their intake of calories and carbs. For the most part, our bodies don’t know how to process them like they would do with sugar, so we don’t have to worry about the extra unwanted “nutrients” getting into our bodies. However, there is some debate about whether it’s okay to eat things your body doesn’t know how to digest and which sweeteners are okay to use.
If you’re wondering which sweeteners are safe, the short answer is to look at what the Food and Drug Administration has to say about it. Below is a list of artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA:
- acesulfame potassium
Stevia, a natural low-calorie sweetener, is also recognized as safe by the FDA, as well as monk fruit extract. They and most other sweeteners are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, but if used in the appropriate amounts, the FDA deems them suitable for human consumption.
However, there is some controversy surrounding the ways these sweeteners may affect us and whether or not they are really safe or better for us than sugar.
Many websites claim that artificial sweeteners can cause or aggravate health problems. They’re said to cause everything from migraines to memory loss to multiple sclerosis. And that’s just the “M” list. There’s also brain tumors, schizophrenia, and a host of other unpleasant diseases to consider. The issue here is that many of the claims are based on poorly executed studies or no studies at all.
The real problem with artificial sweeteners seems to be not in the products themselves but in our use of them. While there’s no solid evidence that artificial sweeteners are really bad for us in small doses, many of us do not know how to use them intelligently. People do not look at all the labels and therefore do not know that artificial sweeteners are found in many more products than they think, such as toothpaste and salad dressing. Nor do most of them care.
Some people think replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener makes a food “healthy” automatically, so they choose to eat more of that food or to indulge in other sweets in addition to their artificially sweetened soda, coffee, or whatever else. They treat sugar substitutes as an excuse to eat more unhealthy items. This behavior cancels out any benefit non-nutritive sweeteners may have provided them.
Since artificial sweeteners are much more sweet than normal sugar, they also have the ability to make us less sensitive over time. Less sweet foods begin to taste not sweet at all, and unsweet foods (like vegetables, which are very important to our health), become bitter and gross.
In the end, your use of artificial sweeteners is still your choice to make. There’s really not anything wrong with them, but in order to overcome the risks and reap their benefits, you have to be careful how you use them and how you let them influence your behavior. If you do choose to use them to replace sugar, we recommend finding the FDA’s acceptable daily intake level for your sweetener of choice.
Next, click here to read about our favorite foods that won’t impact your blood sugar!