Sweeteners: Artificial Varieties

by in Food News, February 6, 2009

Everyone knows these little pastel packets you find at restaurants and coffee shops — the artificial or no-calorie sweeteners. We see descriptions like “substitute,” “natural” and “made from sugar” attached to these food additives, but what does it all mean? There is more to these “sweets” than meets the eye.

The Backstory
None of these products have been on the market for more than 50 years or so, which may not be long enough to grasp how they affect the body in the long run. Making sense of all the research is tricky to say the least. Because these products are so prevalent — both as standalone products and add-ins to packaged foods — there may be some pressure on researchers and government agencies to keep them around. This is a good reason to proceed with caution.

Though they come from different sources, all artificial sweeteners are subjected to some type of chemical treatment in order to remove calories or enhance flavor.

Popular Types of Sweeteners
Saccharin (a.k.a. Sweet N’ Low) is the grandfather of artificial sweeteners. It is 350 times sweeter than sugar, and research has linked excessive consumption to certain types of cancer in lab animals. These findings led the FDA to consider banning its use more than 30 years ago. That didn’t happen, but there are many agencies that advise avoiding saccharin if you can.

Aspartame (a.k.a. Equal or NutraSweet) was the next sweetener on the scene. Only 200 times sweeter than sugar, it is commonly found in beverages, gelatin desserts and frozen desserts. The research on this product is spotty, but there are some links to cancer. The best advice is to avoid long-term consumption. Children should also avoid eating lots of aspartame-containing foods.

Sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda) may be your best bet since there does not seem to be mountains of evidence advising against it. Typically found in baked goods, frozen treats and beverages, it is popular because “it is made from sugar” (according to advertisements). Yes, it is made from sugar — sugar rinsed with chlorine! Though it does have the least amount of negative research, it has only been approved for use in the U.S. since 1998.

New on the Scene
Even newer than Splenda is Stevia (a.k.a., Truvia or Purevia). About 100 times sweeter than sugar, Stevia was previously sold as a “dietary supplement” until recent FDA approval. We’ll probably see Stevia added to most food you can shake a sugar bowl at (and this has some food industry watchdog groups freaking out). Stevia is derived from a plant, but that doesn’t guarantee its safety. There is some research that says it’s safe and others than support having caution; until more research is done, the jury is still out. (Read more about the Stevia controversy.)

The Breakdown
Pros: These products offer a calorie-free alternative to sugar, which can be useful for diabetics or those trying to cut out calories.

Cons: None of these sweeteners are straight from mother nature. Many contain chemicals and there just isn’t enough research to date to verify that they can be consumed with reckless abandon. Check labels to know exactly which type you are eating. They are not only found in “sugar free” foods. “Diet” and “light” versions of foods and beverages often contain a combination of sugar and artificial sweeteners to help keep calories low.

The Bottom Line
Using small amounts of artificial sweeteners is most likely safe, but since these items do contain potentially harmful chemicals, it’s best to consume in strict moderation. We at Healthy Eats just avoid them altogether.

Learn more about these and other food additives >>

What do you think of artificial sweeteners?

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Comments (101)

  1. J says:

    First and foremost, all artificial sweetners are abolute POISON!!! Aspartame particularly has been linked to brain damage, cancer, and seizures. Eating "diet" foods is FAR less healthy than eating their sugared counterparts. Furthormore, even if you're desperate to lose weight for some reason or other, artificial sweetners are actually linked to WEIGHT GAIN and obesity. These sweeteners do not satisfy your body's cravings for sugar as the body does not recognize it as sugar. In addition, the chemicals in artificial sweeteners cause you to desire more sugar and carbs, thus leading to weight gain. DO NOT POISON YOURSELF WITH ARTIFICIAL SWEETNERS THAT WON'T EVEN HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT!!! (And about the whole 'natural' stevia thing, some of the most deadly poisons known to man are derived from plant sources!)

    • lurl says:

      Complete nonsense a statement replete with words of fatalism should you use these products.
      The Aspartame lies come from a woman who has NO medical education and has no business defining what is good, bad or otherwise.
      These sweeteners do not cause on to gain weight nor cause you to desire more sugars and carbs.
      The statements against Sucralose are ridiculous…do you abstain from salt?

      • lori delgado says:

        don't you notice all the overweight people who drink diet soda's and never actually losing weight? atleast cut the soda out all together. i am anti any of these fake sugars/sugar substitutes; especially for any kids. keep it original/natural sugar and in moderation.

      • ayekay says:

        Actually, J is right. I've read that consuming artificial sweeteners is linked to more weight gain when compared to consuming natural sugar. Just googling the subject, I immediately found this article on the ABC News website. http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/OnCall/story?id=4271246

        Maybe you should do some more research. There is a lot of evidence to show that aspartame is linked to cancer. Perhaps consuming only small amounts of these artificial products may not have dramatic effects on your health, but personally, I'd rather just stick with natural sugar and not risk it.

    • val says:

      Right on J. You covered it all. I think the responders here who believe that artificial sweetners are safe couldn't live without them if they tried. I don't know if you have seen the documentary done on these sweetners but it is worth viewing. Just google it.

    • Amen!!!! I could not have said it better myself!!!!!!! I try to tell people all the time, especially about Splenda, and they do not want to listen…. Looks like they will have to find out the hard way! All organic is the best way to go.. But even then you still have to watch!! :-0

    • fitchick101 says:

      My vote is still out on artificial sweetners. I know there have been studies showing how bad Aspartame is. I'm continuing to research all sweetners including Stevia. However, the one "additive" that is missing from list to avoid……is SUGAR. SUGAR is also poison, and is addictive, contributing to diabetes and heart disease!

  2. Carol Ann Auty says:

    I just bought IDEAL which is new to the market. I love it! No after taste like the sweetners made with stevia. It is sweetned by Xylitol, a natural sweetener found in fruits and vegetables. Try it you’ll like it so much better than Stevia products. Carol

  3. carol february 8th 2009 11:05 says:

    Artificial sweetners are a poison and the research has proved it! Want the lowdown on artificial sweetners and MSG? Read “EXCITOTOXCINS” By Blaylock.
    You will never touch an artificial sweetner ever again!!!!!!!!

    • lurl says:

      Blaylock is a quack and has been outside Allopathic medicine for many years along with his buddy Mercola. Both have been thoroughly discredited.
      He wouldn't know the truth if it hit him in the face.

  4. Roland says:

    I recently switched from Splenda to Truvia then back to Splenda because of the after taste. Splenda with fiber is still the best…lol

    So this is what you and Toby are collaborating on nowadays…. Congratulations… Cool site!

  5. gloria says:

    If you use Xylitol, please be sure and keep away from pets as it is POISON to pets.

  6. Laura says:

    I am almost 60 years old and I have been using Splenda for years. I am physically fine and do not crave sugar. I find that it really helps me with cereal or anything else I eat. Until research proves without a doubt that this is harmful I am not interested. Furthermore that research cannot be done by the sugar industry or anyone else that has a chance to profit by the results.

  7. Susan says:

    I have discovered organic Blue Nectar Agave,it's a low glycemic sweetner from the heart of the agave plant. It's 11/4 times sweeter than sugar so I use very little in my coffee. Diabetics can use this.

    • lurl says:

      There has been a recall on Agave Nectar of all brands. It would seem its glycemic index is the same as honey or cane sugar.

  8. Kathy Ellenberger says:

    Hi, I have tried several brands of Stevia over the years, I didn’t like it.
    Now there is a new one called NuStevia, with no bad aftertaste. It comes in various forms, even one for baking. It is also available at my local Ray’s grocery store.
    I love it. Kathy

  9. Dru says:

    So if artificial sweeteners are so bad then how much sugar can one eat in a day that would be considered “moderation”? I’m talking about table sugar not sugar added to other foods like soda, etc…

  10. Cindy says:

    husband is diabetic so this is our best choice

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