New Research Sparks the Question - Should I Use Artificial Sweeteners?

New research sparks question of whether people should use artificial sweeteners

(HealthCastle.com)  Artificial Sweeteners (or sugar substitutes) have been around for years.  In fact, Aspartame, probably the best known low calorie sugar substitute, has been approved for use in Canada since 1981 and is allowed in foods like soft drinks, desserts, breakfast cereals, chewing gum and candy .  Many people, myself included, have a taste for sweet foods but are conscious of the calories these foods have.  Did you know aspartame is ~ 200 times sweeter than sugar, so very little of it is needed to sweeten foods?  Artificial sweeteners are used to sweeten foods that normally have table sugar without adding carbohydrates or calories.  The main difference among the different sweeteners is taste, degree of sweetness, and chemical structure.

Artificial sweeteners can be useful for people with diabetes as it allows people to manage their carbohydrate intake and blood glucose levels, but still enjoy sweet-tasting foods. This opens up the door for a wider selection of foods that can fit into a healthy meal plan.  So far so good right?  

Is there such thing as too much of an ‘artificially sweet’ thing? 

Aspartame is considered safe for daily use in moderation at or below their Acceptable Daily intake (40 mg/kg body weight) by adults (including women who are pregnant or breastfeeding), adolescents and children (over the age of 2), although some people report headaches with aspartame use.  People with PKU should avoid aspartame.  There is about 6 mg of Aspartame in every fluid ounce of diet soda which means one can of diet soda (355 ml or 12 ounces) contains about 75 mg aspartame.  An adult that is 50 kg can safely consume 2000 mg of Aspartame per day or about 27 cans of diet soda equivalent [although that is clearly excessive].  Consuming too many foods and drinks with  aspartame and other sugar substitutes may displace other nutrient-dense, energy-yielding foods that our bodies need as fuel for our busy lives.   

The obesity epidemic of the last 25 years has encouraged the growth of the artificial sweetener industry.  Sweeteners can be found now in almost all chewing gum, diet pop and drinks, and ‘light’ yogurt.  If a product is labeled ‘sugar free’, or ‘no sugar added’ it is likely added with sweeteners.  Health Canada,  and the Canadian Diabetes Association all consider aspartame safe when used as part of a healthy eating plan.  This part – as part of – is important.

New Perspective on Sugar Substitutes
CBC news reported a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  The study followed the drinking habits of 66, 000 mid-aged women in France for 14 years and found that both regular and diet pop drinkers had increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes with the risk higher among diet pop drinkers, and that artificial sweeteners are linked to obesity.  How could this be?  Researchers postulate that sugar substitutes such as aspartame may interfere with our body’s  natural response to sugar.   Researchers proposed that artificial sweeteners may confuse the brain, possibly shutting down the hormonal cues involved with food intake, leading us to eat more.

What is the verdict? 

If you choose to include artificially sweetened foods and drinks, use artificial sweeteners in moderation, and definitely stay below the Acceptable Daily Intake .   

Consider a healthier alternative to diet soda.  Try a carbonated water with a twist of lemon or lime.  My favorite?  Add frozen cranberries or blueberries for an antioxidant boost.  You may be surprised how satisfying and refreshing this may be! 

Health is not black and white.  Neither are our diets.  There are many choices about what foods and beverages to put into our bodies, and we all have our “vices”.  Identify what yours are and how you use them in your diet and your life.   Ultimately, we all need to nourish our bodies with real, nutrient-dense foods 80% of the time while allowing for indulgence 20% of the time.  

Written by Calgary Dietitian Heidi Piovoso, BSc, RD, Dietitian Associate with HealthCastle Calgary & Kristyn Hall MSc, RD, Dietitian and Director, HealthCastle Calgary.

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