The Bitter Truth About Artificial Sweeteners

01/01/2016 9:19 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Kirk McKoy via Getty Images
Health story on the different kinds of sweeteners and how our bodies respond to them. Sucrose, glucose, fructose, agave, stevia, honey, artificial sweeteners. We also mention corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup. Kwok will have props. Please shoot them individually on different colored spoons in the studio on white. –– SWEET–N–LOW. (Photo by Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Every second person I meet is health and weight conscious these days. And don't get me wrong, that's a good thing! Many brag about the "healthy choices" they make by choosing only diet colas and drinking tea and coffee with sweeteners such as Sugar-Free instead of sugar. Healthy choice? Not on your life!

Poor guys, ignorance is certainly bliss in their case! All these supposedly healthy "zero calorie" options use artificial sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame etc., and few know that several studies indicate that they have some serious safety issues. Surprised? Don't be and read on.

Saccharin is the oldest artificial sweetener, popular the world over. The US National Toxicology Program (NTP) classified it as a potential carcinogen. Although the classification was eventually removed, concerns remain. In a 1997 report, the Centre for Science in Public Interest (CSPI) strongly objected to reclassification of Saccharin as safe. In India, saccharin finds its way into toothpaste and many other items.

I strongly recommend cutting out sugar altogether instead of replacing it with substitutes that are equally or potentially more dangerous.

Sucralose is the sweetener used in Sugar-Free Natura. A family friend carries his own supply so he is never stranded. Over the last weekend, he proudly used multiple sachets and drops when he visited us. He believes it is safe because it is branded "Natura" and so must be "natural". He is so wrong on both counts. The findings of a 2014 study by The University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi, saw clear effects of pancreatic toxicity in rats. A study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health found that sucralose reduced the amount of good bacteria in the gut by 50%, increased the pH in the intestines, contributed to increases in body weight and affected P-glycoprotein (P-gp) levels negatively.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found an increased risk of cancer of the lower urinary tract in users of artificial sweeteners. A 2004 article published in the Annals of Oncology concluded that heavy consumption of artificial sweeteners (>1680 mg per day) increases the relative risk of bladder cancer in humans. While there are other studies that have failed to find a link between cancer and artificial sweeteners, I would prefer to err on the side of caution.

Aspartame (used by brands like Pepsi and Coke) was considered safe in small quantities. However, the exact quantity that is safe is not clear and the controversy about it has ensured that PepsiCo has announced already that it is removing aspartame from Diet Pepsi.

I strongly recommend cutting out sugar altogether instead of replacing it with substitutes that are equally or potentially more dangerous.

If you must use a sweetener, I recommend Stevia since it has been used safely for many centuries. Besides, recent studies also indicate that the stevia leaf, and its main sweetening chemical, stevioside, are non-toxic. The FDA is yet to approve Stevia because it has not received petitions with sufficient information for it to make a decision.

So folks, wake up to the very real dangers of artificial sweeteners. Read the fine print. Educate yourself. Better be safe than sorry! Remember a known enemy, in this case sugar, is easier to identify and deal with than a false and deceptive friend like artificial sweeteners.

Cheers to good health and truly healthy choices!

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