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Are artificial sweeteners a safe alternative to sugar?

by Suresh, 11 Dec 2023

Most people enjoy a sweet snack. But the empty calories might pile up if you frequently consume foods and beverages with a lot of added sugar. Weight gain may be impacted by added sugar. Additionally, it may increase your risk of developing significant health issues like diabetes and heart disease.

Artificial sweeteners, usually referred to as sugar substitutes, are used by certain people. They have a sugary flavour but fewer calories. Some don't have calories. Artificial sweeteners are frequently the subject of spirited discussion.

On the one hand, they are said to worsen your intestinal health, blood sugar, and cancer risk. However, the majority of medical professionals believe they are safe, and many people use them to cut back on sweets and lose weight. The research on artificial sweeteners and their effects on health is reviewed in this blog.

What exactly are synthetic/artificial sweeteners?

Chemicals called artificial sweeteners or sugar replacements are used to give some foods and beverages a sweet flavour.

They are frequently referred to as "intense sweeteners" because they offer a flavor that is comparable to table sugar but up to a thousand times sweeter. Despite the fact that some sweeteners have calories, the quantity required to sweeten items means that you end up taking in nearly no calories.

How do artificial sweeteners function?

Your tongue's surface is coated in numerous taste buds, each of which has several taste receptors that can distinguish between various flavours.Your taste receptors come into contact with food molecules as you eat.Your brain receives a signal when a receptor and molecule are perfectly matched, enabling you to recognise the flavour.

For instance, the sugar molecule fits exactly into the sweetness taste receptor, which enables your brain to recognise the sweet taste.The molecules of artificial sweeteners resemble sugar molecules enough to fit on the sweetness receptor.

However, they typically differ from sugar in too many ways for your body to convert them to calories. They accomplish this by giving off a sweet taste without adding extra calories.

Health risks associated with sugar replacements

Health organisations have said that sugar replacements do not result in major health issues.

The risk of cancer in adults is also not increased by sugar replacements. Saccharin, an artificial sweetener, has been linked in studies from the 1970s to rat bladder cancer. Research since then has demonstrated that those conclusions don't hold true for people.

According to some study, long-term, everyday use of artificial sweeteners may increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, and overall mortality. However, other behaviors or a lack of good habits could be to blame for the increased risk.

Other studies examine the gastrointestinal and long-term use of sugar substitutes. Many people pay attention to how the gut and brain interact. Researchers are investigating whether sugar replacements have an impact on people's sweet tooths, feelings of hunger, and blood sugar regulation.

Bloating, gas, and diarrhoea can be brought on by sugar alcohols, stevia, and luohanguo. From person to person, the amount of sugar alcohol that triggers these symptoms varies.

It is generally safest to consume sugar alternatives in moderation. Additionally, it's preferable to just sometimes or for a brief period of time utilise sugar replacements.Therefore, if you use them frequently, attempt to cut back.

Sugar-free/Artificial sweeteners: but at what cost?

Artificial sweeteners appear to be a solution for effective weight management since they provide the sweetness of sweetness without any calories. A 12-ounce can of soda with added sugar typically has 150 calories, almost all of which come from sugar. Diet soda in the same quantity has no calories. The decision appears to be obvious.

In order to battle obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes, all of which are risk factors for heart disease, the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Diabetes Association (ADA) have given a cautious endorsement to the use of artificial sweeteners in place of sugar.

While they are not miracle cures, using non-nutritive sweeteners wisely could help you cut back on additional sugars in your diet and cut calories. By consuming less calories, you may be able to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and reduce your risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

Artificial sweeteners do not all work the same.

The five artificial sweeteners saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose have all received FDA approval. Stevia, a natural sweetener with few calories, has also received approval. It is highly complicated how the human body and brain react to various sweeteners.

It's also plausible that these items alter our perception of food's flavour. Compared to table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, non-nutritive sweeteners are far more powerful. A tiny amount gives a sweet flavour similar to that of sugar without having the same number of calories. Frequent usage of these extremely powerful sweeteners may decrease tolerance for more nuanced flavours by overstimulating the sugar receptors. In other words, those who regularly consume artificial sweeteners may begin to find less highly sweet foods, like fruit, to be less appetising, and unsweetened meals, like vegetables, to be plain disagreeable.

Using artificial sweeteners can, in other words, cause you to avoid filling, healthy foods and increase your consumption of artificially flavoured, less healthy items.

Artificial sweeteners might use a different tactic as well. They may prevent us from linking sweetness with calorie consumption, according to research. As a result, we could have increased cravings for sweets, a propensity to select sweet foods over wholesome ones, and to put on weight. More than 21 diet drinks consumed weekly by San Antonio Heart Study participants increased their risk of weight gain or obesity by double compared to those who did not use diet soda.

But you claim that you can stop drinking diet soda whenever you like. Do not assume. Studies on animals indicate that artificial sweeteners might be addictive. In experiments, rats were given either intravenous cocaine or oral saccharine after being introduced to cocaine. The majority of the rodents opted for the latter.

What's your definition of safe?

Your notion of safety will determine whether or not non-nutritive sweeteners are secure. The majority of the cancer risk has been ruled out in studies that led to FDA approval. The 24 ounces of diet soda that many people who drink diet soda take daily, however, was used in far smaller doses in those trials. We actually don't know what long-term effects consuming significant quantities of these compounds will have.

In addition to cancer, there are other health issues. Daily intake of diet drinks was linked to a 36% higher risk of metabolic syndrome and a 67% higher risk of type 2 diabetes in the Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Aren't these the very diseases that artificial sweeteners may assist to prevent?

The conclusion

Artificial sweeteners may provide some people with a temporary solution to reduce their sugar intake and achieve weight loss or weight management. For healthy adults, sugar replacements are generally harmless.

But be mindful of how your food and beverage choices are impacted by sugar replacements. Your taste buds may adjust to sweetness as a result of these components. And it can make it difficult to drink enough water.

Products created with sugar substitutes may convey the incorrect impression of processed foods to you. It's possible that a snack with a low or no sugar content label isn't the healthiest option. The finest combination of nutrients for the body is typically found in whole foods like fruits and vegetables.

However, some people can experience sweetness without adding extra calories thanks to artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners can be a component of a healthy diet provided they are used sparingly.