Posts Tagged ‘Aspartame’

For decades, controversy has persisted about the safety of non-caloric sweeteners (NCS). For many who attempt to lose or maintain weight, they are a god-send. Organizations, such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Diabetes Association, and American Heart Association, support their benefits in weight-loss. Through the years many artificial sweeteners, for example cyclamates, have come and gone. Today, the most recognizable NCS include pink packets of saccharin (Sweet’N Low®), blue packets of aspartame (Equal®), and yellow packets of sucralose (Splenda®).

The public’s first experience with artificial sweeteners began soon after the discovery of saccharin in the late 1880s. Its use became widespread during the sugar shortage of World War I. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of aspartame in 1981 and sucralose in 1998.

Periodically, groups or individuals claim that non-nutritive sweeteners cause harmful health conditions. A 12-week study in 2008 found that sucralose reduced helpful bacteria in the intestines and limited benefits of certain oral drugs in rats. More recent reports, many based on the 2008 research, state that sucralose is carcinogenic and alters blood-glucose. Numerous health professionals disagreed with the findings and claim that critical areas of the initial study were flawed.

Research published in September 2014 looked at potential health problems with the artificial sweeteners aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin. The study concluded that all three sweeteners may elevate blood-sugar levels in some people but not others, possibly release cancer-forming properties when heated, and affect helpful bacteria in the gastrointestinal track. However, even the researchers cautioned that their results were not conclusive enough to make recommendations on consumption of artificial sweeteners. That did not keep the media from spreading the word that non-nutritive sweeteners were unsafe. The “Food Insight” blog, published by the International Food Information Council Foundation, summarized what many nutrition professionals expressed about this study. The author, Matt Raymond, compared the research to “a big nothing-burger with an extra helping of skepticism. . . served up with warmed-over hysteria.” In other words, it was a sensational news story with little to no helpful information.

How do NCS affect weight? One study maintained that compared to sucrose (sugar), saccharin and aspartame caused more weight-gain. However, a review of numerous studies from 1976 to mid-2013 found that those on NCS lost more body weight than control groups who used regular-calorie sweeteners. Substituting non-nutritive sweeteners for sugars did not cause weight gain, and researchers concluded that they may prove helpful in weight loss or weight maintenance programs.

Are artificial sweeteners helpful or harmful? Most health professionals support using artificial sweeteners to help control weight. Until researchers conduct longer, more conclusive studies, enjoy your favorite artificially-sweetened foods with confidence you are safely consuming fewer calories.







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While many tout either the positives or negatives of sugar, non-nutritive sweeteners create equal controversy. How safe are the contents of those pink, yellow, and blue packets consumed daily by millions?

Opponents of artificial sweeteners consider them worse than sugar and refer to them as toxic and dangerous. Some consider them addictive and claim that they cause the body to crave more sugar. Additionally, a few individuals may be sensitive to certain ingredients in those sweeteners. Accusations of a link between the use of cyclamates, a sugar-substitute of the 1960s, and bladder cancer heightened fear of cancer from all artificial sweeteners. According to the National Cancer Institute, evidence fails to link cancer risks to their use.

 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved five artificial sweeteners for human consumption.

  • Saccharin, in use for more than 100 years in the United States, is generally regarded as safe (GRAS). Sold as “Sweet and Low”, saccharin is 450 times sweeter than sugar. Moderate consumption appears safe, and more than 100 countries use this sweet substance. While some studies with rats found that saccharin increased appetite and weight gain, other studies failed to confirm increased weight in humans.
  • Aspartame, accidentally invented in the mid 1960s, is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Recognized trade names include Nutrasweet, Equal, and NutraTaste. People with phenylketonuria (PKU), a hereditary disease that can cause irreversible brain damage, must avoid this sweetener because it contains the amino acid phenylalanine.
  • Acesulfame-K, marketed under the trade names Sweet One, Sunette, and Sweet ‘n Safe, is 200 times sweeter than sugar. The “K” represents the chemical symbol for potassium. However, since acesulfame-K passes through the body unchanged, the potassium provides no health benefits.    
  • Sucralose, known by the trade name Splenda, received FDA approved for use in the US in 1998. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar. This unique sweetener, made from sugar derivatives, passes through the body undigested and unabsorbed.
  • Neotame, related chemically to Aspartame, is safe for those with PKU. It is 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. FDA approved neotame in 2002. It is not packaged under a brand name.

According to the American Dietetic Association, nonnutritive sweeteners are safe when used within the approved regulations. Although many times sweeter than sugar, they yield no calories. When replacing sugar, they lower incidents of tooth decay, lower caloric content of food, and decrease the glycemic index in food. The International Food Information Council maintains that non-calorie sweeteners aid in attempts to control weight. Studies with humans found that substituting Aspartame for sugar-sweetened products resulted in nearly a half-pound of weight loss per week.

For the majority of the population, the five approved sweeteners become a boost to those who need to cut sugar intake and lower calories. As always, use in moderation and enjoy.

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