Many people who are watching their weight resort to non-nutritive/artificial sweeteners in their daily diets. These sweeteners were first marketed to people with diabetes as a means of providing a sweet taste without the risk of increasing their blood sugar. The idea was that people with diabetes would not have to count it as a sugar (since it is zero-calories) and respectively not adjust their insulin doses.
Little did the makers of these products know that this was the fix all sweet-tooth dieters were waiting for. However, are these products too good to be true?
A joint scientific statement, issued by the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, gave a cautious recommendation to the use of nonnutritive sweeteners to help people maintain a healthy body weight and for diabetics to aid glucose control.
First author Dr Christopher Gardner (Stanford University, CA) explained that the term nonnutritive sweeteners would cover the six sweeteners —aspartame, acesulfame K, neotame,saccharin, sucralose, and plant-derived stevia. “.. all these substances have zero calories, and that distinguishes them from other sugar substitutes that do have calories but are better for the teeth than sugar itself.”
The report’s primary aim was to determine whether intake of these sweeteners results in a reduction of sugar intake. In summary, this report found that sweeteners will help as long as people don’t eat additional calories later as compensation. This is a quite common phenomena with scientific evidence showing that consuming artificial sweetener will cause an over consumption of calories at the same meal or the following meal.
Gardner stressed that the key to the success in this process is not to compensate calories. He explained that compensation can take two forms: physiological, where the body might be expecting more calories and so the individual may be hungrier and therefore may eat more; and psychological, where the individual thinks they are allowed to eat more sugar-rich food because they had a diet soda instead of a full-sugar soda.
The report adds that scientific evidence is limited and inconclusive about whether this strategy is effective in the long run for reducing calorie and added-sugars consumption.
The statement reminds that limiting added sugars is an important strategy for supporting optimal nutrition and healthy weight and achieving glycemic control.
Now onto the debatable topic; is the consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners safe? The report states that is up to the FDA to decide. The FDA has either approved or given some form of acceptance to all of these six substances.
To wrap up.. They are better than sugar but not an optimal dietary component
Asked to comment on the statement and the safety of the substances included for heartwire , Dr Walter Willett (a personal research “hero” of mine, founder of the rich field nutritional epidemiology, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and the chair of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health) said:
“We cannot be completely sure about the safety of these products, because
their long-term use in humans has not been studied fully, in part because
of the time that they have been on the market.
Many products initially approved by the FDA have later been found to
have side effects and withdrawn, so approval is not a definitive indication of safety.”
He added: “However, the artificial sweeteners [have] definite harm when consumed in large amounts. This harm, particularly when consumed in beverage form such as soda, includes increases in risks of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and gout. A real concern, though, is that just replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners leaves a person, especially CHILDREN, conditioned to high levels of sweetness, which is likely to influence their food choices adversely.”
My take on this all,
1-Excessive sugar intake is linked with a higher body weight, a worsening metabolic profile (which is a Pandora’s box of possible diseases) and eventually may lead to trouble metabolizing sugar and thus diabetes
2-Until research studies (clinical trials and epidemiological studies) deem non-nutritive sweeteners “safe” (cause absolutely no harm) I would use them sparingly
3- Taste is acquired and thus can be manipulated.
We should all decrease our added sugar intake and go back to our roots when fruits (in their whole form) were considered a sweet treat.