By Suzanne Laurent
So, you’re at your local coffee shop, and after you’ve made your decision of small, medium or large, caffeinated, decaf, flavored coffee or perhaps tea, you head over to the condiments. Now it’s skim milk, whole milk, two percent milk, half and half or cream. The choices continue. Before you is an array of things to sweeten your beverage – white sugar, raw sugar, honey, agave, and an assortment of artificial sweeteners in little pastel packets.
Artificial Sweeteners Come with
Potential Dietary Detriments
Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and six of them have been approved for human consumption. They are aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), saccharine (Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin), sucralose (Splenda), acesulfame K (Sunett), neotame (similar to aspartame), and stevia (Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf).
“There has been a lot of controversy about whether these products are good for you,” said Jessica LaFleur, a registered dietitian at Portsmouth Regional Hospital. “For some, it’s a better alternative than sugar if they want to lose weight. They won’t be consuming the calories such as those found in sugary drinks,” she said. “It depends on the individual.”
LaFleur said the FDA has limits for acceptable daily intake of artificial sweeteners and the actual amount most people consume is well below the recommended limits.
For example, the agency set the acceptable daily limit for aspartame at 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Aspartame is one of the most common artificial sweeteners in use today and is sold under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal.
It is used in many foods and beverages, and because it is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, much less of it is needed to give the same level of sweetness.
To put the acceptable daily limit for aspartame in perspective, this would be 3,750 milligrams per day for a typical adult weighing 75 kilograms (about 165 pounds), far more than most adults take in daily. A can of diet soda usually contains about 180 milligrams of aspartame, so a typical adult would have to drink about 21 cans of diet soda a day to go over the recommended level.
Some health practitioners, however, do not recommend diet sodas at all.
“Aspartame, used in many diet sodas, has been linked to many health issues,” said Dr. Angela Lambert, a naturopathic doctor and owner of Ancient Traditions Natural Medicine in Portsmouth.
While Splenda and aspartame may have zero calories, the brain can still tell the difference between these artificial substances and sugar, she said.
“When a sweet taste comes, the body expects calories,” Lambert said. “When no calories come, this causes the body to crave more because your brain senses the difference and has not been satisfied. This can cause overindulgence as well as add weight to the midline of the body.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no clear evidence that the artificial sweeteners available commercially in the United States are associated with cancer risk in humans.
Saccharin studies in laboratory rats during the early 1970s linked saccharin with the development of bladder cancer. For this reason, Congress mandated that further studies of saccharin be performed and required all food containing saccharin bear a warning label.
However, further studies have shown these results apply only to rats. Human epidemiology studies (studies of patterns, causes, and control of diseases in groups of people) have shown no consistent evidence that saccharin is associated with bladder cancer incidence.
LaFleur does suggest that her patients avoid artificial sweeteners during pregnancy.
“I advise all my patients to consume these products in moderation,” she said. “Some people may experience headaches or other side effects.”
People with diabetes are also advised to monitor their sugar and carbohydrate intake, so artificial sweeteners may be a better choice for them, LaFleur said.
“They have no calories,” she said. “And other sweeteners like honey, sugar and agave all have calories.”
Honey has 22 calories per teaspoon; sugar has 16 calories.
And not all sweeteners are equal.
“While many think agave is a wonderful, natural sweetener, it is actually higher in fructose content than high fructose corn syrup and so is terrible for all of us,” Lambert said.
Most agave syrup, because of the method of preparation, contains 70 to 95 percent high fructose – compared to 55 percent found in high fructose corn syrup.
“Unless it is processed in a very clean manner, it is mostly fructose,” Lambert said. “In addition, the processing of it involves filtration through many chemicals.”
Fructose is naturally present in fruit in small amounts.
“Agave has high amounts of fructose that turn into fat,” Lambert said. “So it is very harmful on our metabolic systems.”
Honey and maple syrup may be better choices. While honey does boast higher fructose levels, it also contains a bounty of cancer-fighting antioxidants, and local honey has been said to help alleviate allergy symptoms.
Honey also has a low glycemic index, so adding it to tea or yogurt won’t lead to energy-busting blood sugar drops later in the day.
Suzanne Laurent is a freelance journalist from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, writing for newspapers, health publications and magazines. She has a background as a registered nurse, medical photographer and health reporter. For more information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reprinted with permission from The Portsmouth Herald.
The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.