With the obesity rate so high in America, nearly everyone is jumping on the weight loss bandwagon. Celebrities are endorsing diet products, companies are producing low cal options, and diet books are flying off the shelves. Everyone is looking for that quick fix to fit into those skinny jeans. Among all of these options, alternative sweeteners are a popular choice. Many have grown accustomed to this seemingly harmless way to cut calories, but what are the pros and cons to using this dietary aid?
With the growing popularity of this product, many companies have begun producing their own variations. Let us look at the different types of sweeteners.
- Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)
- Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
- Saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet’N Low)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- Stevia extracts (Pure Via, Truvia)
- Tagatose (Naturlose)
- Agave nectar
- Date sugar
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Maple syrup
Each type of sweetener has a different composition, so there are different risks involved with every type. Saccharin is one of the oldest types of artificial sweeteners. In the 1970s a study was done with saccharin and was found to cause bladder cancer in the lab mice used in the studies. Although it was later stated that the process which caused cell damage was specific to mice and not to humans, it still raises an eyebrow on the effects it has on the human body.
Sucralose, or Splenda is actually made from sugar, but because of the chloride molecule that is attached, it makes it unable to be absorbed into the body. Although it is made from sugar the main ingredients are a number of chemicals. Because this is a relatively new product, there is still much to learn on the long term effects of this sweetener. When tested on mice some of the side effects were bloating, nausea, skin irritations, wheezing, cough, runny nose, chest pains, palpitations, anxiety, anger, moods swings, depression, and itchy eyes. The study also showed that the mice were not absorbing the normal amount of medication given, and after 12 weeks had only about one half of the good bacteria found in the gut. Another common misconception of Splenda is that it is calorie free. It is able to be advertised in this way because it contains very few calories, only about 96 per cup. The problem with this is that when used in baking, it is not hard to consume enough for the calories to make an impact.
Aspartame is another form of sweetener that has not tested well in the lab mice. This substitute was also shown to cause various types of cancer in the rodents. Although no studies have been conclusive in it having the same effect on humans, it is shown to cause headaches in its users. Three randomized placebo-controlled studies showed that headaches frequented those who used aspartame. It was also shown that those with depression and mood disorders were particularly sensitive to aspartame and suggested not to have it in their diet.
Novelty sweeteners are still very new and not much testing has been done to weigh the pros and cons. The main concern with these products is even in the oldest form, we do not have a clear view on the long term effects they may have on our bodies. In certain situations (i.e. diabetics), sweeteners can be a useful tool to manage sugar intake while still getting a sweet taste, but for most it is best to go natural. Although natural forms of sugar have a higher calorie count it may be worth it to stick to them for long term health benefits. When it comes down to it, with a well-balanced diet and exercise, there is no need to risk the possible troubles that may come with a sugar substitute.The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.