If you are watching your weight, or if you are trying to follow a low-sugar diet or dietary restrictions, you may be turning to artificial sweeteners or other sugar substitutes. These substitutes, also known as high-intensity sweeteners, make your food sweet and flavorful. Although these foods may be appealing to the eye and the palate, they may actually provide your body with unnecessary and often harmful ingredients.
We are exposed to these sweeteners all the time, in the food we eat, the toothpaste we use, or sitting on the table at our favorite restaurant or coffee shop. Some of us may use them without a second thought, but others question how good these artificial sweeteners are for our health. Understanding how these artificial sweeteners play into your overall health can prompt you and your family to switch to healthier, more natural sweets.
How do we know if they are safe?
The FDA is required by law to review all new food additives for safety before they can go on the market.
For example, decades ago, studies began linking the artificial sweetener cyclamate to cancer. Due to requirements of the FDA to ban any food additive shown to cause cancer in humans or animals, the government ordered cyclamate to be removed from all food products in 1969.
There are currently no studies that have presented a strong link between FDA-approved high-intensity sweeteners and any diseases or illnesses. Not only does the FDA review these food additives, but they also encourage consumers to report any negative effects so that they can continue to monitor the product.
There are currently six high-intensity sweeteners that are approved by the FDA:
- Neotame: Some of the brand names of this sweetener that are on the market are Newtame®, Sunett®, and Sweet One®. There is no label required for this additive; therefore, you may not realize that it is in your food or beverage.
- Saccharin: This sweetener is also known as Sweet’N Low®, which is found in small pink packets. It is found in beverages and other low-calorie products.
- Aspartame: Known as NutraSweet®, Equal®, Spoonful®, and Equal-Measure®, it is found in more than 6,000 products including diet beverages, dairy products, desserts, and tabletop sweeteners.
- Acesulfame potassium: You can find this listed on food labels as acesulfame K, acesulfame potassium, Ace-K, or Sunett®. This sweetener can be found in almost any type of sweetened product, even in gum, mouthwash, and toothpaste.
- Sucralose: Primarily marketed as Splenda®, this is used in many food and beverage products, most commonly candy, soda, and cereal.
- Advantame: In May 2014, the FDA approved this new high-intensity sweetener. It does not yet have a brand name, but has been approved as a new food additive. Some products containing advantame include baked goods, non-alcoholic beverages, and chewing gum.
While these high-intensity sweeteners are considered safe for their intended uses, some individuals may be sensitive to these sweeteners and have negative reactions. Consumers should consult their doctor if they have concerns.
If you don’t like artificial sweeteners, or wish to not use them, there are many naturally sweet low-calorie alternatives that you can turn to, such as:
- Agave: Distilled from the blue agave cactus, this sweetener is a healthier choice for diabetics than sugar or honey because of its relatively low glycemic index value. One teaspoon has 21 calories.
- Stevia: This non-caloric sweetener comes from the plant Stevia rebaudiana. It is up to 300 times as sweet as sugar, but contains almost no calories.
- Xylitol: A sugar alcohol that is naturally found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables. One teaspoon has 10 calories.
Although the aforementioned low-calorie ingredients may be wonderful alternatives for regular artificial sweeteners, each person has their own unique way of satisfying their sweet tooth. Do you have any specific foods, products or sweeteners that you enjoy? If so, let us know your recommendations in the comments below!
UPMC BodyChangers, is a weight loss management and support program that helps members achieve their weight loss goals and maintain a healthy lifestyle through an array of exercise classes, education and support groups, and group outings. Based at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, UPMC BodyChangers creates a supportive community of like-minded individuals who want to be happy, healthy, energetic, and fit by taking better care of themselves.