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More sweets for my sweet?

Excessive sugar intake has been linked to weight gain and for years the food industry has marketed artificial sweeteners to individual who wanted the sweet taste sans the calories. However there has always been some controversy as to whether or not these products are safe and effective.

The news is mixed. There are experts on each side claiming that these sweeteners are both safe and dangerous.

Sugar substitutes are non caloric or low caloric but are 200 to 8000 times as sweet as sugar, so they are sometimes referred to as high intensity sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners include: saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium and neotame.

Saccharin

Saccharin is the oldest of the artificial sweeteners, and it is a petroleum-based compound. Coca Cola’s Tab diet drink was the first mainstream product to use saccharin. I packet of saccharin is equal to two teaspoonfuls of sugar but with only 4 calories, vs 30 calories of sugar.
However in 1960, a study suggested a link between saccharine and bladder cancer in test animals. In the year 2000, after many studies, the National Toxicity Program has taken saccharin off its list of carcinogens, but there is still speculation as to whether or not saccharine is really safe. The National Cancer Institute in the US worked with the FDA and through their research they determined there was no link that they could find between saccharin and bladder cancer.

Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)

Aspartame is the most popular artificial sweetener, and it is about 200 times sweeter than sugar and has 2 calories per teaspoon as opposed to sugars 15 calories per teaspoon.
However more than 75% of food additive complaints reported are about Aspartame. Over 90 different documented symptoms have been listed as being caused by aspartame. Those symptoms include: Headaches/migraines, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, vertigo, memory loss, and joint pain. While the US food and drug administration, FDA stands behind the market approval of aspartame, many doctors and scientists believe it is dangerous to the human body. It is found in Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Yoplait Light yogurt, just to name a few.

Sucralose (Splenda)

Splenda, the brand name for Sucralose, is made from sugar by manipulating it chemically which prevents it being broken down and metabolized by the body. Splenda is 600 times sweeter than sugar and calorie free. It most closely tastes like sugar and leaves no bitter after taste.
However there are concerns about the long term use of Splenda. Research published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology concluded, “Based on the studies and the extensive animal safety database, there is no indication that adverse effects on human health would occur from frequent or long-term exposure to sucralose at the maximum anticipated levels of intake.” However there have been no independent studies to corroborate this. A study in 1991 suggested that sucralose had the potential to compromise the immune system.

However there is more to consider than just whether or not these compounds are safe. Scientists have discovered that artificial sweeteners can actually change our behavior. It has been suggested that because we have a general understanding that while sugar is sweet, it is high caloric and as a result we are more prone to approach it and other sweets with moderation. However studies have shown that frequent use of artificial sweeteners can cause the brain to take off the brakes so to speak and lift that desire for moderation, causing the subject to be less mindful of healthy eating in general.

Infact researchers found that rats given yogurt with saccharin gained more weight and body fat than rats given yogurt sweetened with ordinary table sugar. The study in Behavioral Neuroscience, suggested that artificial sweeteners tricked the brain into thinking that a high number of calories would follow, and as a result increased hunger and bingeing. However, there are also conflicting results in other studies, so more research must be done to clarify.

All in all, the choice to use sweetener vs sugar is a personal one, but it should be an educated one.

About Ekene Onu

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