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At first glance, artificial sweeteners seem like a better alternative to sugar especially if you are a diabetic person. However, studies showed that it is unhealthy for your body in the long run. Today, many beverages and varieties of foods contain artificial sweeteners labeled as “sugar-free”. This includes soft drinks, jellies, ice cream, and others.

Artificial sweeteners, a type of sugar substitute, are loosely accepted as any sweetener you use that is not sucrose or the regular table sugar. Sweeteners are laboratory-made sugar alternatives, but they can be derived from natural substances, which includes herbs and sugar in itself. They are also known to many people as intense sugar alternatives since they are a lot sweeter compared to regular sugar.

Artificial sweeteners are appealing alternatives because they virtually add no calories to your diet, unlike sugar does. Also, you only need very few amounts of it as compared with the amount of regular table sugar you’d use to make your food or beverage sweet.

Artificial sweeteners are commonly used in processed foods, which include baked goods, powdered milk, sodas, candies, canned goods, and other foods and beverages. They are also popular to be used in homes. They can be used in cooking and baking. Certain recipes need changes, however, because the amount of sweeteners you would need is a lot different compared to the amount of regular sugar you would require in a specific recipe. Also, if you are planning to use alternative sweeteners for a recipe, check the label of the sweetener first for appropriate use.

Some types of artificial sweeteners may have an aftertaste. You should try different varieties to find out which sweetener is best for you.

Health Benefits

A popular benefit of using artificial sweeteners is that it won’t contribute to dental problems such as cavities and tooth decay. Other benefits are:

Weight regulation. Besides controlling blood sugar, a lot of people resort to using sweeteners instead of regular table sugar because the former is non-nutritive. They virtually don’t have calories. While each gram of regular sugar has four calories. For example, a 12-ounce soda has 150 calories (equivalent to 10 teaspoons of sugar). If you want to lose weight or just preventing any more weight gain, you’d choose beverages with artificial sweeteners to avoid that 150 calories. Some studies, however, claimed that using sweeteners other than sugar is related to weight-gain, but the cause of this is still not known as of yet.

Diabetes control. The main purpose of using alternative sweeteners is to regulate blood sugar especially if you have diabetes. Alternative sweeteners don’t raise blood sugar since they are not carbohydrates. There are, however, concerns about how sugar alternatives are categorized and labeled. If you have diabetes, you should first check with your doctor if you plan on using alternative artificial sweeteners.

Possible Health Concerns

The usage of alternative sweeteners has been criticized for many years. A lot of critics claim that artificial sweeteners cause a lot of different health problems, which includes cancer. The basis for such claims were related to certain studies in the 1970s which linked saccharin to cancer of the bladder among laboratory rats. As a result, saccharin had carried a warning on its label saying that it may be hazardous to one’s health.

However, according to a certain study conducted by the National Cancer Institute, there is no solid proof that any U.S. approved alternative sweeteners can cause cancer or other serious problems to one’s health. Furthermore, a lot of research that followed concluded that most alternative sweeteners are safe for public use at limited amounts, even if pregnant women use them. Because of the later studies’ results, the warning in saccharin’s label was removed.

Alternative sweeteners are classified by the Food and Drug Administration as food additives. They should go through the FDA’s tests before they are made available to be sold. In certain cases, the FDA declares a certain substance as GRAS or “generally recognized as safe.” Substances that are GRAS are approved by professionals through scientific data as safe for their purpose. Also, some substances that are used for many years can also be considered safe for consumption, and they don’t anymore require the approval of the FDA before they are sold.

The FDA also organized and established an acceptable amount of artificial sweetener daily intake. The amount established is considered the maximum safest amount that can be consumed each day for a lifetime. The acceptable daily intake (ADI) is said to be a hundred times lower than the minimum amount that may cause concerns on one’s health.

The FDA has approved five artificial alternative sweeteners that are chemically manufactured. These are Aspartame, Saccharin, Acesulfame-K, Neotame, and Sucralose.

Aspartame. This sweetener is more or less 200 times sweeter than regular table sugar. When ingested, aspartame is broken down by the body into its two amino acid components – which are phenylalanine and aspartic acid. Aspartame has four calories each gram, but its high level of sweetness also means that a very little amount is only used that almost no amount of calories is provided.

Aspartame is approved as a sweetener of general purpose in the United States. It can be used in dry beverages, mixes of dessert, soft chocolate, and candies, and much more. However, aspartame is not stable at baking and cooking temperatures, so its use in them is limited.

Saccharin. This was discovered a hundred years ago, making it the oldest of all the artificial sweeteners. The sweetness of this depends on how it is used. It can be 200 to 700 times sweeter than ordinary sugar.

In the United States, Saccharin is approved to be a special diet sweetener limited to be used in beverages and other tabletop products. Also, a stipulation was indicated before the sweetener was approved. The said stipulation says that the maximum amount set by the FDA to be used should not be exceeded.

Acesulfame K. Acesulfame potassium, or Ace-K, is more or less 200 times sweeter than table sugar. It has no calories because it is not metabolized by one’s body.

Besides tabletops, Ace K can also be found I a wide array of pharmaceutical products and oral hygiene ones, as well as food and drinks. In the United States, this is approved as a general purpose sweetener and is being used in a wide variety of foods and beverages similar to what aspartame is used for. Ace K is also advantageous compared to aspartame because the former can remain stable for temperatures reaching up to 400 degrees F.

Neotame. This is the latest approved sweetener by the FDA for general usage in the United States. Just like aspartame, it is composed to two main compounds – phenylalanine and aspartic acid. However, it differs from aspartame in a sense that neotame has a different structure, and it is 40 times sweeter than aspartame. This makes it about 8 thousand times sweeter than ordinary table sugar.

Even if Neotame has a different structured compared to aspartame, the body metabolizes it in the same way. It is also completely broken down into the two main compounds, and since only tiny amounts of neotame are needed to mimic table sugar’s sweetness, neotame contributes no calories. Neotame can also be used in foods and drinks where aspartame and ace-K are also used for.

Sucralose. This is derived from sucrose by a manufacturing procedure involving a lot of steps. The molecular change resulting from the procedure makes sucralose about 600 times sweeter than ordinary table sugar.

Sucralose was approved by the FDA in 1999 as a general purpose sweetener. Food manufacturers value sucralose highly because among all the artificial sweeteners available, sucralose is the most heat-stable. This introduces sucralose into a wider variety of foods and drinks where it can be safely and effectively used.

It is not clear whether it is safe for everyone to take artificial alternative sweeteners. The most frequent question being asked about it is the long-term health benefits. Consumption of such sweeteners when you are pregnant or lactating is not being prohibited by manufacturers, but there are still not enough studies showing that pregnant or lactating women will or will not have long-term health problems when they use sweeteners.

When a woman is pregnant, everything she eats and takes inside her body is being monitored. Not every food you take will be safe for your baby.  Certain studies on rats concluded that when the animal ingested alternative sweeteners during pregnancy, the carcinogenic effects are increased. Further studies also claimed that daily intake of artificial alternative sweeteners can increase the risk of preterm labor and delivery.

Although it’s risky for children to take too much sugar, it is also not certain if they will have better health in the future if they use alternative sweeteners. All in all, the best way for pregnant women and children to avoid possible long-term effects is to avoid artificial sweeteners.

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