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Looking Closer At Artificial Sweeteners

One major dietary ‘bad guy’ that many people are starting to cut from their diet is sugar. Sugar is essentially a non-nutrient source of carbohydrates that will supply a combination of glucose and fructose to the body. If you happen to have high-energy needs then some extra sugar may not be all that particularly harmful. However if you’re trying to strip away a layer of body fat, sugar is something you can do without.

Another big issue with a high consumption of sugar in the diet is it’s a very good way to promote the development of diabetes. When sugar is consumed in large quantities, insulin will also be dumped into the system in equally large quantities as well. With so much insulin constantly being shuttled through the blood, eventually the cells stop responding to them as they should or the pancreas (the organ that releases insulin) starts to get worn out. If this persists for a long enough period of time, you may eventually have to start injecting yourself with insulin in order to manage your blood glucose levels, or you may have to be extremely careful about how many carbohydrates you eat at once so your body can effectively manage it.

Regardless of your health concerns, the highs and lows of blood sugar spikes and crashes make for a very unpleasant time -- which often leads to sugar binges, making weight control incredibly difficult.

Many people think the solution to this is to begin replacing any added sugars in their diet with artificial sweeteners. But, is this really that good of an idea? Artificial sweeteners, for the most part, are not natural substances and aren’t something your body was designed by nature to handle.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the major players in the artificial sweetener market so you can gain a better understanding what these are all about.

Sugar Alcohols

The important thing to note right off the bat with sugar alcohols is that they do contain some calories, unlike some of the other sweeteners available. They range from 1.5 to 3 calories per gram, while one gram of sugar provides four calories for comparison. 

Some of the benefits of sugar alcohols are that they decrease the glycemic response, don’t cause cavities as much as natural sugar does, and can be placed in a product that is labelled sugar-free.  Typical sugar alcohols include sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, erthritol, isomalt, lactitol and maltitol. Common foods that contain these are sugar-free candies, chewing gum, jam and jelly spread, frozen foods, baked foods, protein bars, frozen dairy desserts, chocolate and cookies.

The biggest complaint people tend to have about sugar alcohol consumption is the increase in the occurrence of abdominal gas and diarrhoea. Some people tend to be more sensitive than others.


The next type of sweetener that is fairly popular is Saccharin. This sweetener has been used for at least 100 years and is the one found in the common table sweetener, Sweet’N Low. The benefit to this sweetener is that it does not cause any increase in blood sugar levels, therefore making it a good option for those who are sensitive to carbohydrates. It’s also a great deal sweeter than regular sugar, so a proportionately lower quantity is needed.

The FDA has approved this sweetener to be one of the better ones to consume and has set a tolerable upper limit of 5 mg/kg of body weight per day. You’ll most often find saccharin in foods such as baked goods, jams, chewing gum and candy.

The two major issues that arise with Saccharin intake are that some groups claim it to be a carcinogen. However, so far the main carcinogenic properties have mostly been demonstrated on animals, with limited evidence in humans. Since not enough research has been done to prove that this sweetener is in fact a carcinogen, a firm statement advising against it cannot be made.

The other concern is that some people claim to experience allergic reactions to the sweetener, with this most often happening with those who also have issues with sulfa drugs. Typical side effects in those who are experiencing allergic reactions to saccharin include headaches, difficulty breathing and diarrhoea.

Another widely talked about sweetener that has gotten a bad rap in the past is Aspartame. This is the sweetener that is found in chewing gum, cereals, gelatins, puddings and diet soda. The common packet sweeteners that contain Aspartame include Nutrasweet, Equal, and Sugar Twin. The upper daily limit that has been set by the FDA is 50 mg/kg of body weight, with the amounts contained in one serving of most foods ranging from 80 mg in yogurt up to 225 mg in 12 oz. of diet soda. To monitor your intake at the table, one packet of Equal contains 22 mg of Aspartame, so you can see just how much you’d have to be conse in order to move out of the daily upper limit that has been set for a safe intake.

While some groups have made claims that Aspartame is related to health problems such as depression, dementia, hair loss and cancer, the majority of research claims that have illustrated such impacts have been swayed due to the funding source or have been individually funded rather than being backed by universities. Other times, it’s been anecdotal claims made by people suffering from these conditions, which cannot be taken as fact. The one group of people who are advised to stay away from Aspartame, however, are those suffering from phenylketonuria, an inherited disorder that increases the production of the amino acid phenylalanine in the body.

The last type of sweetener that you will commonly come across is Sucralose. This is a relatively newer sweetener and because of this, fewer studies have been completed to confirm its safety. This product’s ‘claim to fame’ has been with the product Splenda, marketed as tasting like sugar because it’s made from sugar.  It is also more than 600 times sweeter than table sugar and provides no calories to the diet in standard quantities, hence being a very attractive option for dieters everywhere. The daily acceptable limit is set at 5 mg/kg of body weight, which is significantly lower than the other sweeteners.

The negative claims that have been made about this product is that, even though they say it is made from sugar, it is still not entirely natural, and that when consumed in high quantities, it does provide calories to the diet (as there are small amounts of dextrose and maltodextrin added in to help add bulk to the product). The largest worry some people have is the fact that there is chlorine found in sucralose, which is also found in products such as disinfectants, pesticides and plastics. Obviously these are harmful to the human body, so many people feel long-term consumption of sucralose could be as well. The side effects that some people have reported with sucralose intake include bloating, diarrhoea, gas, skin irritations, hives, wheezing, cough, chest pains, anxiety, depression and itchy eyes. Since longer term studies have not been done as mentioned above, it’s not entirely clear what the impacts on humans will be.

Being sure you understand the different types of artificial sweeteners and what limits are recommended will be critical to ensure your safety. It’s helpful to check ingredient labels as often times there are artificial sweeteners in products you typically wouldn’t think of. Sugar alcohols in particular you need to watch as they can be added to products that aren’t even claimed to be ‘sugar free’ for extra sweetness. Those following Ketogenic diets where carbohydrate intake is extremely low notice the impact of gastroninstinal distress the greatest from sugar alcohol intake because they rely on products containing these to fill the void in their diet where former higher carbohydrate products used to be.

For the most part, if you’re using a moderate intake of sweetener products in your diet, you shouldn’t have too many issues.


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