Using Artificial Sweeteners as a Sugar Substitute – An Objective Standpoint

Sugar = Sucrose 

You’re probably aware of the health concerns surrounding sugar consumption, but if not, no problem.  Experts believe that sugar consumption is a major cause of obesity and many chronic diseases, such as diabetes, and can also cause inflammation in the body.  Artificial sweeteners are just one type of sugar substitute, the others being novel sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and natural sweeteners.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are an appealing alternative to sugar for those of us who are making an effort to lose weight.  By replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener, one can effectively reduce their calories while maintaining sweetness in their coffee/tea, soda, or treat.  The American Heart Association issued a statement concluding that “when used judiciously, NNS (non-nutritive sweeteners) could facilitate reductions in added sugar intake, thereby resulting in decreased total energy and weight loss/weight control, and promoting beneficial effects on related metabolic parameters.”  But at the same time, there were insufficient data to determine this conclusively.  Check out that source here.

Perfect – nice and confusing.  That stuff sounds good for the most part.  Why have sugar substitutes, specifically artificial sweeteners, been scrutinized?

Well, there’s more to artificial sweeteners than their effect on weight, which is what the above paragraph was all about.  For a little background, the FDA has only permitted the following high-intensity sweeteners (synonymous for artificial sweetener) for use in food in the United States:

  • Saccharin
  • Aspartame
  • Acesulfame
  • Sucralose
  • Neotame
  • Advantame

Many different types of artificial sweeteners exist, but not all are approved for use everywhere in the world.

Concerns

Now let’s get into the plausible (but not scientifically proven) concerns surrounding the ingestion of artificial sweeteners.  Our body and brain respond to them in a complex way, causing the potential risks and the issues behind them:

By replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners, we fool ourselves into believing it’s okay to indulge in other unhealthy foods.  Basically, we are replacing lost calories through other sources, offsetting any weight loss or health benefits.

Artificial sweeteners may alter the way we taste.  This is the result from our sugar receptors being overstimulated by these hyper-intense sweeteners.  It can truly make eating your vegetables a difficult task (like it isn’t already one).  One may find that they desire more artificially sweetened foods over healthy foods, and by continuously replacing them, a vicious cycle begins.  It’s understandable how this can happen without realizing it.

They may prevent us from associating sweetness with caloric intake, causing cravings of more sugary foods.

They may be addicting

There are a host of other claims floating around out there too: cancer risks, metabolic syndrome, impaired gut health, dental health, and so on.

You can see that the issues surrounding artificial sweeteners are complex, simply by bringing attention to the varying questions and arguments within this one short post.

Do artificial sweeteners truly make a positive impact in reducing energy (calories) from our diet, which in turn can help prevent or lessen the severity of obesity, diabetes, etc?

Regardless of the issue of body weight, are artificial sweeteners truly safe for long-term human consumption?  Or can they lead to some nasty consequences that have not yet been studied or recognized?

Optimize your Health

If you’re trying to optimize your health, this issue can be severely overwhelming from numerous aspects.  Sifting through the abundance of (mis)information available on the internet, to now being aware of your food labels and seeing how much artificial sweeteners may actually be included.  There is and isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer – and I doubt you’ll be satisfied with it.  It’s one that those of you interested in nutrition or healthy lifestyle have heard a million times: moderation is key.  Limiting added sugars is an important strategy for supporting optimal nutrition and healthy weights, as concluded in the 2009 American Heart Association scientific statement “Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health.”  By limiting added sugars, you’ll also be limiting carbohydrate intake (unless you indulge in other healthy foods!) which can help achieve glycemic control.  If you plan on replacing some of your sugar with artificial sweetener substitutes, continue to be conscious of your other dietary choices, and be aware that there may be consequences to over-indulging in artificial sweeteners to satisfy that sweet tooth.

What do you think?

Final Note

I highly encourage you take a look at some published readings like: Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association and others like: Artificial sweeteners: sugar-free, but at what cost?  Both of these resources were heavily used in the making of this post.