Artificial sweeteners, a.k.a sugar substitutes or non-nutritive sweeteners are used in place of sugar (sucrose) to reduce caloric intake among people trying to lose or maintain weight. They are also used among diabetics that cannot eat sugar.
You might have read a lot of articles on the internet mostly against artificial sweeteners. This a topic that people find easy to rail against. What many of these screeds (for they are hardly ever balanced) forget are that many times they compare apples and oranges (or apples and orang-utans). There are too many separate kinds of artificial sweeteners and it is not just difficult but unscientific to generalise about several very different kinds of chemicals.
Artificial sweeteners have helped a lot of diabetics and also people who have wanted to cut down on sugar achieve their calorie and blood sugar goals. While they do have some distinct downsides, the broad majority of written content doesn’t focus on their clear benefits either. We, in this blog, we look into several common sweeteners, try to use the current body of research into artificial sweeteners, and give you a balanced view.
Artificial Sweeteners do not cause cancer
This allegation, that sweeteners are carcinogenic, mostly dates back to a study done in the 70’s on lab rats when injected with cyclamate and saccharin (a very common admixture). But since then numerous studies have failed to replicate that result. Like many contrarian studies, this one has been repeated ad nauseum as scientific, while the hundreds of other studies refuting it have remained obscure. One such little known study, for example, published in Toxicological Sciences in 2000 found that high doses of cyclamate didn’t increase cancer risk or have toxic effects in monkeys. The National Cancer Institute (of America) notes that the their current concerns about this sweetener are not related to cancer.
In India, the regulatory body Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) permits the use of five sweeteners: Saccharin Sodium, Aspartame, Acesulfame Potassium, Sucralose, and Neotame. All of these have been established, through numerous, large studies, to not be carcinogenic in any way.
Xylitol, an artificial sweetener, is good (excellent, actually) for you teeth
This is a fact that is severely underreported in most communities except maybe the dentists. Chewing gum or mints sweetened with xylitol has been show to neutralise plaque acidity on the teeth. In fact, xylitol maybe more effective than even fluorides in prevention of plaque formation. Remember that fluorides don’t prevent plaque formation, they only remove it after it’s formed. It is the plaque that harbours decay-causing bacteria. So look for xylitol in your chewing gum!
Keep in mind though that unlike Aspartame, Saccharin, and Sucralose, Xylitol is not a zero calorie sugar substitute, but it does have 30% less calories than sucrose. Sugar is in quite fact bad for your teeth. It produces the exact opposite effect that xylitol does. So when choosing your gums, choose one without sugar, and with xylitol.
Artificial sweeteners do not make you fat
The reasoning goes like this. When you eat something artificially sweetened, your pancreas “think” it’s sugar, produce insulin, resulting in most of the carbohydrates you have eaten being converted to fat. This has been proven to be completely false. First off, pancreas don’t recognise sugar by its taste. The recognition is completely chemical. If it doesn’t have the same chemical structure as sucrose, your pancreas won’t consider it sugar and release insulin.
Numerous studies (including a recent one in 2014) have shown that consuming aspartame or any other sweetener with or without carbohydrates resulted in aspartame not contributing to an insulin spike.
Even diabetics were found to have no spike in insulin after ingesting nonnutritive sweeteners.
Artificial do affect your gut bacteria
The outlook, though, is not all rosy. A 2014 Israeli study concluded that some sweeteners (especially aspartame) enhance the populations of some bacteria, in comparison with others. The microbiota in your intestinal system is carefully calibrated by evolution for human health and proper digestion. This disturbance in gut flora is not good news, because it may (though it’s a big may) mean that in the long term sweeteners, particularly aspartame which the Israeli scientists studied, may cause major intestinal upheavals. And since the intestines also are involved in energy absorption, some scientists are suggesting a link between obesity and artificial sweeteners. But do keep in mind that this is yet to be investigated.
Now that you have an understanding of where the current research stands, you will be able to make a more informed choice vis-a-vis artificial sweeteners. You may not want to eat them in large quantities, but there is no need (and no scientific evidence) to completely shut them out of your diet.