A comparison of three of the most popular artificial sweeteners: saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose. The three sugar substitutes are described by popular brand name such as Sweet 'N Low and Splenda and compared by taste and user satisfaction. Health concerns and the long-term risk of using artificial sweeteners is also addressed.
Sugar substitutes are called artificial sweeteners when they are made of chemically composed rather than natural substances. Three of the most common artificial sweeteners are aspartame, saccharin and sucralose. Artificial sweeteners replace the taste of sugar in beverages and special sugar-free food products. Sugar-free products are used by diabetics and those wanting to cut back on sugar to prevent weight gain or tooth decay. Some sugar-free products are also used as a sugar replacement for candies and in baking.
Saccharin: The Pioneer in Artificial Sweeteners
Saccharin is a low-calorie chemical sweetener which has been popular since the 1960s-1970s. It is found in Sweet ‘N Low, which is used in the place of sugar to sweeten coffee and hot beverages. Saccharin is also found in diet sodas, toothpaste, candies, and some baked goods. Saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sugar, but has a bitter aftertaste. There has been controversy over the safety of saccharin since 1977, when bladder cancer was found in lab rats that were fed large doses of the substance. Though in the ensuing years no direct link to cancer in humans was found, it is considered by the government to be an “anticipated human carcinogen”, with possible increased risk to certain subgroups.
Aspartame: A Favorite Beverage Sweetener
Aspartame is a low-calorie chemical sweetener that is often used to flavor diet sodas. This popular sweetener has been around for over thirty years. Marketed as Equal and NutraSweet, it is also used to sweeten coffee and other hot beverages. This artificial sweetener is 180 times sweeter than sugar. Though deemed safe by the FDA, according to some scientific research, aspartame may be linked to brain tumors and lymphoma. Regular use may also cause dizziness, headaches and mood swings.
Sucralose: A Sweetener Good for Baking
Sucralose, which is found in Splenda and Apriva, has zero calories and a taste similar to sugar. It is found in sugar-free puddings, diet drinks, and many other products. This artificial sweetener is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Though sucralose was discovered in 1976, it wasn’t approved for use in the U.S. until 1998, and has only recently become popular as a sugar substitute. Sucralose is believed to be one of the safest of the more popular artificial sweeteners. FDA studies show no link between the use of sucralose and cancer. Splenda, a blend of sucralose and maltodextrin, can be used for home baking.
Though saccharin and aspartame have been used for several decades, the long-term effects on health have not been completely determined. Sucralose, a relative newcomer, may be the healthiest choice. For diabetics and people who need to lose weight, the benefits of artificial sweeteners may outweigh the risks.
Health Risks of Sugar Substitutes
There are more and more health risks with these sugar substitutes. Studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can wreak havoc with your digestion, causing diarrhea, gas, and bloating.
It has been found that sucralose (Splenda) can destroy the good bacteria in the gut. In a 2008 study, scientists gave rats Splenda for 12 weeks. After the 12 week period, it was found that the rats that consumed the sweetener had 47–80% fewer anaerobes (bacteria that don't require oxygen) in their guts.
Beneficial bacteria like bifidobacteria and lactobacilli were significantly reduced, while the more harmful bacteria seemed to be less affected. Even worse, the gut bacteria had still not returned to normal 12 weeks after the experiment was finished. This is not good since about 70% of our immune system resides in our guts and the good bacteria are necessary for good health. Splenda can also interfere with certain medications, decreasing the potency of medications.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has downgraded its safety rating of sucralose (Splenda), from “caution” to “avoid” in the group’s Chemical Cuisine glossary of food additives.
Aspartame is one of the worst sugar substitutes a person can take. Many people like to argue that aspartame is just fine to take, because after all, it is an amino acid. It is known as an excitotoxin as is MSG, which means it over activates neurons in the brain, causing these neurons and brain cells to die.
The most common excitotoxins commonly found in our foods and drinks is glutamate. It should not be added to any of our foods or drink because these excitotoxins or excitatory neurotoxins can freely penetrate certain brain regions and rapidly destroy neurons by hyperactivating them.
Many people actually feel ill when they have a food or drink that contains aspartame. In fact, just one bite or one sip of a drink that contains aspartame can cause a rather severe headache. There have also been reports of sleep disorders. Aspartame contains other not so healthy components including, phenylalanine, L-aspartic acid or aspartate, and Methyl alcohol.
Saccharin has a long and odd history. In 1972, the FDA removed Saccharin from its list of Generally Regarded as Safe list. In 1977 both the United States and Canada wanted to ban Saccharin. In 1981 the National Toxicology Program declares that saccharin is "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."
Saccharin is now considered safe and not a carcinogen, the jury is still out for many people though.
The bottom line, try to avoid drinks and foods that contain these sugar substitutes.
Safer Sugar Substitutes
Stevia could be a safer alternative, but there is concern that stevia-related substances caused mutations and other changes in DNA, yet stevia has been tested for cancer in only one species (rat) instead of two species, as usually recommended.
Xylitol is made from birch and other plants and is a sugar alcohol that is about as sweet as sugar and contains about three quarters of the calories. Xylitol can be found in many commercial products and sugar free gum today. So far, there are no warnings about this, but it can cause a laxative effect.
BEWARE, xylitol is poisonous to dogs and other pets.
David Zinczinco and Matt Goulding. Eat This, Not That! Supermarket Survival uide: the No-Diet Weight Loss Solution. New York, NY. Rodale Press,2008.
WebMD.com, “Which Artificial Sweetener is Right for You?” Elaine Magee, MPH, RD.