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Artificial Sweeteners: Are they Safe?

It has been 15 years since Jingky, a mother of one, was diagnosed to have diabetes. One day, she stood in front of a store, indulging her eyes on the mouth-watering cakes, buttery pastries, luscious ice cream, and creamy puddings, feeling sorry she couldn’t consume such foods.

Then, she happened to stop by another shop and was surprised to see the same food items she had just seen in the previous store but labeled differently. “Made with no-calorie sweeteners,” and she wondered,”Was it really possible?”

Many people are very curious about the safety of these food additives. This article will present clarity on these doubts, so read on!

Addressing safety concerns
Artificial sweeteners are substances that are used instead of table sugar to sweeten our foods and beverages. These may also be referred to as alternative sweeteners, very-low calorie sweeteners, sugar substitutes, or non-nutritive sweeteners.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates these food additives and approves them as safe before they are marketed to the consuming public.These products are evaluated based on their safety, sensory qualities, and stability in various food production environments. FDA has defined “safe” as a reasonable certainty in the minds of competent scientists that these substances are not harmful under their intended conditions for use.

This manifestation of safety would depend on the characteristics of the substance, the estimated dietary intake, and the population that will consume the substance. An Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) has been established so that the public will be aware of how much they could consume over a lifetime without posing any health risks.

To date, there are five FDA-approved non-nutritive sweeteners: saccharin (Sweet and Low, Sweet Twin, Sweet `N Low, and Necta Sweet), aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal, and Sugar Twin), acesulfame-potassium (Sunett, Ace-K, acesulfame-K, Sweet One), sucralose (Splenda), and neotame.

Benefits of artificial sweeteners
The FDA has set the ADI for these sweeteners. In general, sugar substitutes do not raise blood glucose levels since they are not fully absorbed by the body. Most of these do not contain any calories. However, in the case of aspartame, though it can provide calories, since it is 160 to 200 times sweeter than ordinary table sugar (sucrose),very small amounts are needed for sweetening so that the caloric intake is often negligible.

This cut-down on caloric intake would play an essential role in weight loss (and/ or maintenance) according to a recent study done by Dutch researchers. The American Dietetic Association also claims that this would help consumers manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart problems, and potentially prevent cavities.

Most food industries also use these items as flavor enhancers, since heat does not affect its sweetness. These alternative sweeteners are often found in baked goods, alcoholic beverages, chewing gum, frozen dairy desserts, fruit juices, gelatin, and many other processed food items.

Dangers of artificial sweeteners
The consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners was banned during the 70s when cancer connections were discovered. There are, however, numerous studies and researches done all over the world clarifying these uncertainties.

Saccharin, was associated with bladder cancer and allergic reactions, and in the case of infants who fed on milk formulas, irritability and muscle dysfunction were evident. Aspartame, on the other hand, has been linked to brain and central nervous system cancers.

On the contrary, mechanistic studies (studies that examine how a substance works in the body) have shown that these results apply only to rats that have been used in the study. Human epidemiological studies (studies of patterns, causes, and control of diseases in groups of people) have shown no consistent evidence that these substances are carcinogenic in nature. No clear evidence was found to establish the link between the consumption of these substances and the development of certain cancers.

Accordingly, the National Cancer Institute stated that, there are other factors that lead to the development of tumors in test animals, which were related to a mechanism that isn’t relevant to humans. It only proves that animal studies do not always predict the behavior of a substance in the human body.

Ending the controversy
According to Newton’s third law of motion, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The same is true today. For every breakthrough in research, there are numerous questions that challenge its findings. So is it safe to use artificial sweeteners?

To date, there is no scientific evidence that proves that any of the artificial sweeteners can cause cancer in humans. Studies have shown that they are generally safe for the consuming public. However, since some artificial sweeteners are not necessarily “no carbohydrate” foods, it is best to read labels, keeping in mind that”sugar free” does not necessarily mean that the food does not contain carbohydrates.

For persons with diabetes, adjusting insulin doses and timing of medications should also be done under the supervision of a health care professional. It is also important and recommended to take small frequent feedings. When possible, eat on a regular time basis and avoid skipping meals.

Keep in mind: everything in moderation! There are a lot of healthy food choices. Eat the right amount of calories from a wide variety of foods. Include high fiber foods such as whole grain breads, fruits, vegetables, and cereals. Not only are they good sources of vitamins and minerals, but they help maintain a healthy weight as well.

Remember to get regular physical activity and whenever possible get a complete annual physical examination. A registered nutritionist-dietitian can help you prepare a personalized meal plan that will help in meeting your health needs.

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