Artificial Sweeteners – Friend or Foe

Artificial sweeteners get a bad rap. Yet with an upswing of healthy lifestyles and increased diet awareness, the use of artificial sweeteners is skyrocketing. Are these sweeteners a dietary disaster or can they help you achieve your health goals?

Artificial sweeteners include any substance that may sweeten food instead of sugar. These may be made from a natural ingredient like stevia, which comes from a plant. Mostly, though, they are synthetic chemicals that can be sweeter than actual sugar. Common chemical sweeteners include acesulfame-K, aspartame, neotame, saccharin and sucralose. Though the FDA approves them for use, people still widely debate their safety.

Even with their safety debated, people are drawn to their potential benefits. First and foremost, these sweeteners provide an alternative to sugar. Consuming too much sugar has been linked to potential health risks. The American Heart Association reports that excess sugar ups the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease. Because of this, the American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons of sugar per day and men take in under nine teaspoons of sugar daily. Artificial sweeteners can help people stay within those limits.

The high, empty calorie content is another big drawback of sugar. One teaspoon of sugar packs 16 calories. While that number may sound low, most people don’t consume just one teaspoon of sugar. The American Heart Association says most people consume an average of 22 teaspoons of sugar per day. It’s easy to see how consuming that much sugar adds hundreds of empty calories to your diet and can contribute to growing waistlines and unwanted extra pounds. When you consider that according to the USDA one can of soda packs upwards of 36 grams of sugar or over 9.6 teaspoons, it becomes clear how easy it is to consume too much sugar and how artificially sweetened beverages help limit sugar consumption.

Lastly, large groups of people shouldn’t consume much added sugar. Diabetics need to carefully monitor their sugar and carbohydrate intake to keep their blood sugars regulated. The American Diabetes Association recognizes artificial sweeteners as a safe way for diabetics to satisfy their sweet tooth without affecting their blood sugar levels.

Despite the benefits of artificial sweeteners, whispers of a link between the use of artificial sweeteners and cancer still circulate. These rumblings first surfaced after a study conducted showed that cyclamate in combination with saccharin caused bladder cancer in lab animals. Saccharin has since been proven safe in later studies. According to the National Cancer Institute, most of the rumors regarding a link between artificial sweeteners and cancer have been disproven, including the most recent ones that tried to connect aspartame to leukemia and lymphoma in rats. Further studies showed no link between aspartame and these cancers in humans. Other concerns remain over the safety of artificial sweeteners. Studies conducted have linked excess consumption of artificial sweeteners to metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, high blood sugar and increased abdominal fat. Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of serious conditions including heart disease and diabetes. Yet, the jury is still out on the link between the two. Other studies show no link between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and metabolic syndrome.

With the evidence all laid out, there’s nothing that proves artificial sweeteners are dangerous. Yet consuming too much sugar clearly has its risks. It’s up to you to decide whether artificial sweeteners will find a way into your diet to limit your consumption of the deadly sweet stuff.

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