Modern research laboratories came up with chemical products that are intensely sweet but have few or no calories – artificial sweeteners. Health experts say that artificial sweeteners let diabetics enjoy pop, candy, and even ice cream, without consuming sugar. This is a plus, according to experts, but not a necessity, since most diabetics are allowed some sugar in their diets. Even for weight control, sugar substitutes do not work magic; although their use has increased in the past 20 years, studies show that Americans are becoming increasingly obese. Most studies also show that dieters experience no greater weight loss with the use of artificial sweeteners, possibly because artificially sweetened foods may still be high in fat.
In regard to taste and versatility, each sweetener has its strengths and weaknesses. Consider these facts about the five types of artificial sweeteners from various health records:
1. Acesulfame-K or acesulfame-pottasium. This sweetener (found in Sunette) is some 200 times sweeter than sugar. It may be used in a variety of foods. It is used to sweeten many different products and can also be used in cooking. According to more than 90 studies, acesulfame-K has been found to be safe.
2. Aspartame. This sweetener (used in NutraSweet) is 180 to 200 times sweeter than sugar. It may be used in a variety of foods. It has no aftertaste, but it loses its sweetness when heated or exposed to certain acids. Once suspected of causing brain cancer, aspartame has also been given a clean bill of health, since numerous studies found no basis for that concern. Aspartame isn’t for everyone; studies show that it is unsafe for people with the genetic disorder PKU (phenylketonuria) because they cannot metabolize its main ingredient, an amino acid called phenylalanine. Some studies have found that aspartame may also adversely affect children with epilepsy. And some otherwise healthy people may experience headaches from it; if you suspect that you are one of them, try avoiding the sweetener for two weeks to see whether your headaches subside. According to health authorities in the United States and Canada, 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight is an acceptable daily intake. (Most diet pops have 35 to 40 milligrams of aspartame per 100-milliliter serving.)
3. Cyclamate. This is a noncaloric sweetener (found in Sweet ‘n’ Low) which is not permitted in processed foods, but may be used as a tabletop sweetener.
4. Saccharin. This sweetener, which may be sold only in pharmacies and is approved only for tabletop use, is about 400 times sweeter than sugar. It is inexpensive but has a bitter aftertaste. Although high doses of saccharin were associated with cancer in rats, more recent studies suggest it is unlikely to be a risk factor for cancer in humans, and is not considered a strong risk factor for bladder cancer, as was once feared.
5. Sucralose. This sweetener (found in Splenda) is 600 times sweeter than sugar. It is approved for use in all foods and beverages.
Aside from the cautions mentioned above, artificial sweeteners appear to be quite safe when consumed in moderate quantities. And further boosting the plus side is that, unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners do not promote tooth decay.