Many people use low-calorie/artificial sweeteners to decrease sugar and/or overall calorie consumption. Whatever the reason you should make an informed decision. The following are some facts about artificial and natural sweeteners.
What are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes that may be derived from naturally occurring substances (i.e., herbs or sugars). Most often they are much sweeter than regular sugar. You can find artificial sweeteners as substitutes for the sugar in many soft drinks, candies, gum, baked goods, and ice cream.
The following artificial sweeteners are currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
- Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)
- Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
- Saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet 'n Low)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
Why use an artificial sweetener?
Most people use artificial sweeteners because they add very few or no calories to their diet. When you compare artificial sweeteners to regular table sugar it can make a difference in terms of calorie/weight control. For example, 1 teaspoon of sugar equals 16 calories; thus, a 12 oz. can of soda contains 8 teaspoons of sugar, 130 calories - just from sugar. Alternatively, a 12 oz. can of diet soda containing an artificial sweetener has 0 calories from sugar. Artificial sweeteners can also be a great alternative to sugar for someone with diabetes because they generally will not increase blood sugar levels like natural sugar does [Note: If you have diabetes, it is always important to consult with your physician or dietitian regarding any sugar substitutes].
The safety of artificial sweeteners has been a topic of debate for many years. According to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies, there is no scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the United States cause cancer or other serious health problems.
What are natural sweeteners?
Natural sweeteners are considered sugar substitutes that are frequently promoted as a healthier option than processed table sugar.
The following are natural sweeteners that the FDA recognizes as being generally safe for consumption:
- Date sugar
- Grape juice concentrate
- Maple sugar
- Maple syrup
Overall, it is important to remember that there is no real health advantage to consuming added sugar - natural or processed. Consuming too much added sugar can lead to health problems such as tooth decay, poor nutrition, and weight gain. Although artificial sweeteners can help to cut down on the calories coming from sugar it does not mean that the food you are eating is calorie-free. You may still be choosing a high-calorie food. The bottom line is to do your own research or check with your doctor before making any drastic change to your diet.
Nutritionist Christine Clark works with Dining Services to provide you with tips and techniques to stay healthy during your time at Northeastern. If you have any further questions about this topic or are looking for more information about any other nutrition or diet topic, such as food allergies or weight gain/loss, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Artificial sweeteners: Understanding these and other sugar substitutes. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/artificial-sweeteners/MY00073
- Fact Sheet: Low-Calorie Sweeteners. International Food Information Council Foundation. www.IFIC.org