Should you cut back on artificial sweeteners?

Should you cut back on artificial sweeteners?

If you are like millions of Americans, you may be turning to artificial sweeteners hoping to save calories. These sweeteners are found in diet sodas, sugar-free gum, baked goods, coffee drinks as well as many other foods. It is becoming a staple in the diets of many people, but is it really as safe and beneficial as we may think?

While artificial sweeteners can give a low-calorie option without losing the taste, other reports suggest it can have many other effects on the body.

A 2011 article in the Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics, reported that the use of some artificial sweeteners in rats (specifically aspartame and saccharin) was shown to cause brain tumors, bladder cancer and some weight gain but noted it has not been shown to affect humans in the same way, but may have possible links to cancer. This can depend on many factors such as a person’s height, weight, or susceptibility to certain chemicals, the article said.

According to Dr. Andrew Gordon, MD, a neurologist based in Barrington, Illinois and who practices at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, although all artificial sweeteners serve primarily the same purpose, there are manufactured with different chemical compounds that may affect the body in different ways.

“It has long been known that saccharin may be carcinogenic in high quantities and there is some evidence that mega doses of aspartame may be neurotoxic,” Dr. Gordon said. “Aspartame definitely can trigger migraines in some individuals as well.  Sucrolase appears to be a safer artificial sweetener.”

Dr. Gordon says that eating artificial sweeteners can actually trick the body into thinking it is consuming something of higher calories. In preparation, the body actually thinks it is missing out on calories; therefore many people then turn to higher calorie foods.

Melodi Peters, a registered dietician at Good Shepherd Hospital, believes artificial sweeteners are something people should avoid. She also says by looking at the labels of the foods we eat we can be sure to lead healthier lives.

“I normally do not recommend artificial sweeteners. As with anything else, if they do use them, I advise moderation. Perhaps limiting to 1 serving, 2-3 times per week,” said Peters.

Dr. Gordon also believes that there is a need for a sugar substitute that could help curb national obesity trends.

“While sugar is natural and therefore preferred by many people, the obesity epidemic remains such a large public health problem that there will likely be a significant need for safe sugar substitutes for the foreseeable future.”

Until that happens we need to be sure to look at labels and stay aware of what is entering our bodies at all times.

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One Comment

  1. Janet Regan Klich May 13, 2013 at 11:58 am · Reply

    I am disappointed in the above article and do not think it is a fair discussion on artificial sweeteners. Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly studied sugar substitutes and is made of 2 amino acids which are naturally occuring in many foods. I am very well aware of the pros and cons of the sugar substitute debate, especially aspartame and am surprised that only 1 article from a pharmacy journal (and not a good article) was quoted. Dr Gordon may have his opinion about sugar substitutes and the side effects he mentions about aspartame in “megadoses” I believe is equal to the consumption of over 140 packets of aspartame!!. How often does he see that in his practice? It is easy for Melodi Peters RD to suggest people avoid sugar substitutes but that is not as valid a suggestion for patients with diabetes and/or pre-diabetes. In people with diabetes, sugar intake is potentially more damaging than sugar substitutes. Nowhere in the article was diabetes mentioned. In this case, I think the article, as it appeared on the Advocate website, did a disservice to the community.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.