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Artificial sweeteners are very common today.  They can be found in diet soda, fruit juice, energy drinks, candy, yogurt, bread and popcorn.  Sweeteners replace sugar to provide a no calorie food that tastes like it has sugar in it.  Better yet, they can be hundreds of times sweeter.  Thus, a tiny amount can replace a much greater amount of sugar.  But the question is whether or not it is safe.  Reducing your sugar intake is always a positive, but does it come at the price of your health?

FDA Approval of Fake Sugar

Six artificial sweeteners have received FDA approval.1

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

In addition, stevia and monk fruit fall under the classification of GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe).  The FDA has said that all sweeteners, like food, must be safe for consumption.   Of course, too much of anything can be a bad thing and so they have established Acceptable Daily Intakes for each.

The History of Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners were first developed for diabetics to provide a sugar-free option for them.  Over time, their popularity has increased in tandem with increasing overweight and obesity rates.  As people seek for weight loss, they often try to reduce their calorie intake by eating foods with sweeteners because they still taste good.  Yet in the past few decades, some studies have suggested that they could be a health risk.  They may cause cancer, diabetes and even weight gain among other disease.2  Isn’t that ironic?  So now many people are worried about artificial sweeteners and some even see them as toxic and dangerous.

What the Experts Say About Sugar Substitutes

So, if artificial sweeteners are NOT safe, why would the FDA approve them?  Barry Popkin, professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina provides an answer.  He identifies the fact that many of these worrisome studies are done with rats.  Of course, rats are not humans and are in fact 100 times more sensitive to sweetness than humans, per gram of bodyweight.  Thus, their reaction can be quite different than for humans.  If the rats get cancer, diabetes or any other disease, it absolutely does not mean it will do the same for humans.3

Dr. David Katz of Yale agrees.  The fact of the matter is that cancer rates have steadily declined over the years.4  At the same time, the use of artificial sweeteners has increased as well.  Thus, if these sweeteners were causing cancer, this would almost certainly NOT be the case.  And so, the chances that they are causing cancer is pretty slim.

What Could Be Bad

Although there really isn’t any solid evidence that artificial sweeteners cause disease, it may increase your sense of sweet.  Consuming sweeteners a lot might actually alter the way you taste.  That means you may need more than before just to satisfy your craving for sweet.  Of course, no one is forced to eat sugary foods, but it isn’t any easier to do when you have a greater capacity for it.

Do Artificial Sweeteners Cause Weight Gain?

There are some negatives related to artificial sweeteners and their effect on your taste buds that we can be certain of.  First, people in the U.S. consume way too much extra sugar.  It is also without question that sugar promotes inflammation.5  This in turn causes diseases like weight gain and heart issues.

This is especially a problem for kids who regularly get lots of artificial sugar through juices, soda and sweet foods.  Over the years, their threshold for sugar becomes much higher than it otherwise might be and they end up consuming excessive amounts of sweet foods in their later years.  Of course, obesity is that natural ending point in this story.

The Fake Sugar Rationalization

The above scenario is a real worry, but more research is in order.  Science hasn’t exactly proven that artificial sugar causes weight gain.  Nonetheless, they can, and are, many times used to justify lousy food choices.  For example, drinking a diet Pepsi hardly makes up for the Whopper than comes along with it.  People often imagine they are doing their body good by consuming foods with artificial sweeteners and no actual sugar, but they’re still fat.

Sure, a diet soda is inarguably a better option than the real thing.  So is a candy bar with sweetener than one with sugar, but how about water instead of soda, or some vegetables rather than candy?  Maybe the best option is to avoid artificial food.  In fact, if we curbed eating out of boxes, packages and drive-up windows, it wouldn’t really even matter if fake sugars are dangerous!

A Better Alternative to Artificial Sweeteners

The truth is, if you are trying to lose weight or eat healthier, the answer is probably not diet soda or sweetened, no-carb cookies.  What you really need is to eat right and stay active.  If you are eating the kinds of foods that you should, the question about the safety of sweeteners shouldn’t even really matter.  You won’t even get much, or any of it anyway.  Fruits, vegetables, fish and meat never contain them and these should be the bulk of your diet anyway.