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The Pros and Cons of Artificial Sweeteners

Many of us are trying to reduce our consumption of sugar. In an effort to do so, we turn to artificial sweeteners. But what are the best options?

Many of us are trying to reduce our consumption of sugar. In an effort to do so, we turn to artificial sweeteners. But what are the best options?

The safety of artificial sweeteners has been controversial for decades. Currently, however, researchers have found no clear evidence that any artificial sweeteners approved for use by the FDA will cause cancer or other health problems. Generally, artificial sweeteners are much, much sweeter than sugar, so less is needed. They can be used as a sugar substitute in numerous ways without the calories. Below, you’ll find a table of the most common sweeteners.

Calories

Per gram

Glycemic index (out of 100)

Solid or liquid

Make up

White Table Sugar (sucrose)

4

65

Solid

50% glucose 50% fructose

Equal

0

0

Solid

Aspartame

Sweet N Low

0

0

Solid

Saccharin

Splenda

0

0

Solid

Sucrolose

Stevia

0

0

Solid or liquid

Plant extract

One downside to using non-caloric sweeteners is that it may have a detrimental effect after consumption: sugar cravings. While artificial sweeteners are registered by taste buds as sweet, it’s confusing to the brain because we don’t receive the calories expected afterward. Essentially, the tongue receives a message that calories are coming, but they are never ingested, so we crave more sugar to get the calories. Studies have shown that the consumption of diet drinks can lead to increased calorie consumption.

One undisputed problem of consuming aspartame affects some people with a genetic disorder called phenylketonuria. This is the inborn inability of some people to metabolize one of the molecules in aspartame, phenylalanine. Some people with liver disease or those who have a high level of phenylalanine in their blood may also need to avoid aspartame. High phenylalanine levels can result in brain damage; therefore products with aspartame display a warning regarding their phenylalanine content.

Is it better to opt for more “natural” sugars, like honey, maple syrup, or date sugar? All of these choices may be less processed, but will still cause the same detrimental effects on the body as white table sugar. Research different brands to see which products are minimally processed and don’t contain added ingredients. These alternatives to white table sugar will be similar in calorie content; therefore, if you are trying to lose weight, these will not help reduce calorie consumption.

New alternatives to sugar are introduced into the market all the time. Be sure to do your research and decide what is more important for you: fewer calories, or more natural products.

Keep in mind that artificial sweeteners are a processed food, and consumption should be minimized as much as possible. It may be a good tool for those trying to lose weight, who can use it as a stepping stone between sugar and using no added sweeteners.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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