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"Ask the Experts" Wellness Blog

Artificial Sweeteners- Be an Informed Consumer

Sitting in the baseball bleachers all summer I heard a many conversations about the best beverage to consume to stay hydrated.  Often the topic would turn to artificially sweetened beverages vs. naturally sugar sweetened beverages.  Read the article below from dietetics graduate student Lindsay LaBrosse about artificial sweeteners.

If you have ever eaten a food that was labeled “sugar free”, there’s a good chance you’ve consumed an artificial sweetener. These artificial sweeteners, or sugar substitutes, are used in place of sugar and are calorie free. The reason they’re calorie-free is because our bodies are unable to digest and absorb them.

The most popular artificial sweeteners available today are aspartame, sucralose, and stevia. Aspartame and sucralose (AKA Splenda) are found in many products such as diet sodas, yogurts, and desserts. Stevia, on the other hand, was just approved as an artificial sweetener in the U.S. in late 2008 and is starting to appear in products. Numerous studies have been done on each of these sweeteners to test their safety, and results vary from “cancer causing” to “harmless.” There is conflicting data; however the FDA has dismissed many of the studies that showed negative effects due to “flaws” in the studies. Also bear in mind that these sweeteners affect each person differently.

The safety of artificial sweeteners is not 100% established but the general consensus is that these sweeteners are probably safe in low to moderate amounts. However, the best advice is to maintain a diet that includes real, whole foods most of the time. Moderation is also key. Instead of eating large amounts of artificially-sweetened snacks and beverages, try having a single portion of a more nutritious item.

Tips

Craving something sweet?

Instead of a diet soda or a sugar-free snack, have a piece of fruit. It is naturally low in calories and packed with nutrients. The fiber in fruit also makes it more satisfying than something refined, and may keep you from consuming more calories later on (isn’t that why you drank diet in the first place?).

Late night studying, and in need of a pick me up?

Skip the 32 oz diet soda, and have a cup of coffee or tea. If you don’t like either of those, have a glass of 100% juice. The naturally occurring sugar (and let’s not forget the many vitamins) will give you the kick you need.

If caffeine is what you crave, there are certain energy drinks that contain 40%-50% juice, several vitamins and minerals, and have less than 100 calories per serving. Drink these in moderation.

References 

1.)    Williams LD, Burdock GA. Genotoxicity studies on a high-purity rebaudioside A preparation. Food Chem Toxicol. 2009 Aug;47(8):1831-6. Epub 2009 May 8. 

2.)    Scientific Committee on Food.  2002. Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food: Update on the Safety of Aspartame. (http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/aspartameopinion.pdf). Accessed 20 Sept 2009. 

3.)    Federal Regulator Reviews Italy’s Aspartame Study. <http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Legislation/Federal-regulator-reviews-Italy-s-aspartame-study> Accessed 11/30/2009. 

4.)    Russell, Lindy. Patient’s Page: Artificial Sweeteners. Southern Medical Journal. 2009.  <http://www.sma.org/smatips/archives/patient/2009/jan-09.pdf> Accessed 11/30/2009.

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