Sweeten With Sweeteners?

by SuatEman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Anne's wondering about the use of sweeteners: are they really safe to use or not?  Some people feel that they are just fine to use and can really help if you are diabetic or are trying to lose weight. Then you hear all the scary stuff that people say on the internet, and you start getting worried.  Are sweeteners really causing cancer, brain tumors, behavior problems, and a boat load of other things?  What's this new info about sweeteners making you gain weight?

Most of us love our sugar.  We love it in coffee, tea, sodas, juicy drinks, cookies, cakes, pies, candy...no wonder over 40% of American teens now consume half of their daily caloric intake in sugar! The trouble is, all of the sugary drinks add lots of calories with very little nutritional value:  empty calories.  With too many sugar calories comes a rise in dental decay, type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia.  If you spend more calories in sugar and less on nutritious foods,  the risk of diseases like osteoporosis also increases.

Enter the world of sweeteners.  Can you have your cake and eat it, too?
Sweeteners are divided into 2 categories:  nutritive and non-nutritive.  Nutritive sweeteners provide calories while those that are non-nutritive are essentially calorie-free.

Nutritive Sweeteners contain calories and raise blood sugar levels. Most will increase the risk of dental decay.
  • Sucrose or table sugar.  
    • One teaspoon contains 15 calories, or 4 calories per gram
  • Fructose. Honey
    • 1.7 times sweeter than sucrose, so you can use less of it to obtain the same sweetness level
  • Sugar Alcohols.  Mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol (look for other "__ol" sugars)
    • 1.5 - 3 calories per gram
    • 25-100% sweeter than sugar
    • Slower to digest which results in a lower glycemic response
    • Not completely absorbed, resulting in abdominal gas and diarrhea in larger quantities 
    • Does not cause dental cavities
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).  Made from corn starch and is a glucose/fructose blend.
  • Agave. 1.5 times sweeter than sugar.
    • 2 tsp counts as 1/2 a grain exchange in the diabetic exchanges

Non-Nutritive Sweeteners have no or very few calories and will not raise blood sugar levels. These are consumed in very small amounts. The FDA approves low calorie sweeteners for use, and sets an "Acceptable Daily Intake" ADI, which represents the most anyone should consume each day for life, in order to assure safety. These levels are set approximately 100 times the smallest amount that may result in health concerns.          
  • Aspartame (Nutra Sweet, Equal)         ADI=50 mg/kg body wt (18-19  cans diet cola*)
    • 160-220 times sweeter than sugar
    • Not heat or shelf stable, not used in cooking
    • FDA approved for moderate use during pregnancy
    • Not for use by anyone with PKU (phenylketonuria)
  • Saccharin (Sweet 'n Low)                  ADI=5 mg/kg (9-12 mini packets*)
    • 200-700 times sweeter than sugar
    • Questionable for use during pregnancy and lactation
  • Sucralose (Splenda)                           ADI=5 mg/kg (6 cans diet cola*)
    • Deemed safe for pregnancy and lactation 
  • Aceslfame-K (Sunett)                        ADI=15 mg/kg (30-32 cans lemon-lime soda*)
    • FDA deems safe in moderation for pregnancy
  • Neotame
    • 7,000-13,000 times sweeter than sugar
  • Cyclamate.  Not approved for use by anyone.
(*Estimated ADI equivalent for a 150 pound person)

The National Cancer Institute states that "there is no clear evidence that the artificial sweeteners available commercially in the United States are associated with cancer risk in humans."  Cyclamates first sounded the warning bell for the possible cancer link when studies feeding animals a cyclamate/saccharin combo showed an increase incidence of bladder cancer.  Subsequent studies on humans have not shown a clear link between any FDA approved sweeteners and cancer. (check out:  http://fda/gov   for more information.)

After considering all this information, you need to decide for yourself if you want to consume sweeteners or not.  I chose not use non-nutritive sweeteners while pregnant, nursing, and did allow my children to use these as they were growing up.  I chose to err on the side of caution and they were not overweight or diabetic. I do consume some artificial sweeteners now, though try to minimize how much I use. Be sure to check with your family doc, pediatrician or OB/GYN for recommendations for you in your own health situations, and for your family.

If you choose to consume artificial sweeteners, use sparingly---moderation in everything!

Check back tomorrow when we take a look about artificial sweeteners and weight loss!