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Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial Sweeteners

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Artificial sweeteners and synthetic sugar substitutes have contributed to one of the most thoroughly researched and highly controversial subjects regarding health. In both Canada and the US there are up to 5 top choices for government-approved food additives and the controversy surrounding each of them is different. People generally have to make up their own minds on the issues. They either love the artificial sweeteners, or they hate them.

Three Main Types of Legal Sugar Alternative

The three main types of artificial sweeteners are saccharin, aspartame and sucralose. Sucralose, which is sold under the brand names Splenda® and Altern® is sometimes considered the “healthiest” of the artificial sweeteners, keeping in mind that this term is relative.

Saccharin Artificial Sweetener

Saccharin has been around for a long time. In the early 70s both governments pulled their approval because of a correlation between saccharin and brain tumors or cancers. There are studies that support this theory and studies that denounce it. No matter how you look at it, both governments have re-approved saccharin and it is commonly found in products like sodas and tabletop sweeteners.

Aspartame Artificial Sweetener

Aspartame, commonly known under brand names such as Equal® and NutraSweet®, are also approved for food use. There are allegations that the decision was pushed through by political means when the research was negative or inconclusive at best.

This artificial sweetener is absorbed into the body and nay-sayers claim it can cause all kinds of biological havoc to your body including headaches, mood swings, seizures, MS like symptoms and even cancer. The Food & Drug administration in both the US and Canada have stated that this is all unfounded and not true. The official website for the MS Society has taken a position that these allegations have not been proven to be true and encourages readers to make up their own mind.

Sucralose Artificial Sweetener

Sucralose seems to be the best bet so far. At 600 times sweeter than sugar, very little is required to obtain optimal sweetness. Unlike other sweeteners, sucralose (Splenda® and Altern®) are water soluble, stable when heated and leave the body wholly and completely; unabsorbed and unchanged.

This makes them ideal for cooking and baking unless you need the texture real sugar provides. Their official website has solutions for that as well. The only controversy seems to be of a marketing nature. Splenda’s® slogan “tastes like sugar because it is made from sugar” has been disputed with the results of the lawsuit locked away from the public. Having said that, Splenda® doesn’t use the slogan anymore in their marketing.

Artificial Sweeteners and Weight Loss

For diabetics, artificial sweeteners are a gift. Without them, there would be severe restrictions to their diets. As far as weight loss? Again, with the contradictions… One side of the coin swears by them. The other claims that the sweet taste can create an insulin response.

This results in blood sugar being stored indiscriminately (as fat), but because your blood sugar didn’t really increase your body turns hypoglycemic resulting in a food intake increase. There is also the belief that dieters can rationalize if they are saving on calories with a diet pop, they can splurge elsewhere. Either way, dieters should be looking at what any kind of pop – or other sugar alternative laden food – is doing on their diet.

If you are drinking pop, diet or otherwise, you’re taking in more than just the sweeteners that it contains. Have a look at the ingredients on the side of the can or bottle.  They are typically laden with flavorings and colorings as well.  Many of them may appear harmless, but even something as simple as the exceptionally common ingredient called “caramel color”, which gives drinks like colas and root beers their signature colors, has been associated with increased cancer risk when consumed on a regular basis. 

Similarly, check out the nutrition table.  One can of cola contains a shocking amount of sodium for a single beverage, too. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that just because you’re choosing a food or drink that contains artificial sweeteners, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re making a healthy or weight loss friendly choice for your diet.

Foods Containing Added Sugars and Alternatives

Foods containing added sugars and alternatives should gradually become a less central part of your diet.  As much as possible, consider them an occasional treat as opposed to something you eat all the time.  The more research is conducted on these types of foods, the better we understand that they do far more harm to our physical and mental wellness than we had realized.  The CDC recently announced that babies should not be fed anything with added sugars for the first 1000 days of their lives.

That said, artificial sweeteners are not seen as an alternative.  Instead, foods that would require that type of ingredient are meant to be skipped altogether. This may imply something about our adult nutrition choices, too. Since these sweeteners and flavors alter our long term health and the perception of the taste of our foods, they don’t need to be eliminated from our diet, but we may be better off without nearly as much of them.