Are Artificial Sweeteners Really Safe?

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What are Artificial Sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners, also called sugar substitutes, are compounds that offer the sweetness of sugar without the same calories. They are anywhere from 30 to 8,000 times sweeter than sugar and as a result, they have much fewer calories than foods made with table sugar (sucrose). Each gram of refined table sugar contains 4 calories. Many sugar substitutes have zero calories per gram.

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Which Products Contain Artificial Sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are everywhere, from sodas to breakfast cereals. All artificial sweeteners are chemically made or processed. They may be added to foods and drinks while you eat, and used during baking or other food preparation. Most “diet” or “low-calorie” food products you buy at the store are made using artificial sweeteners.

What are Some of the Most Commonly used Artificial Sweeteners?
The most common artificial sweeteners (sugar substitutes) are:

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Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet). It’s mostly used to sweeten diet soft drinks. Aspartame is also found in gum, yogurt, and cough drops. Aspartame is 220 times sweeter than sugar. It loses its sweetness when exposed to heat.

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Saccharin (Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin, NectaSweet). It’s used in many diet foods and drinks. Saccharin is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar.

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Sucralose Splenda). It’s in many diet foods and drinks. Sucralose is also found in chewing gum, frozen dairy desserts, fruit juices, and gelatin. Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar.

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Acesulfame K (Sunett). It’s often combined with saccharin in diet soft drinks. It is heat stable and can be used in cooking and baking. It is also available as a tabletop sweetener, marketed under the name Sweet One

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Stevia (Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf). Stevia is made from a herbal plant and is used in foods and drinks. Some foods containing stevia include: Teas, candies, chewing gum, soft drinks and soy sauce.

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Neotame
Neotame is the newest artificial sweetener on the market. It was approved by the FDA in 2002. It is between 7,000 and 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar depending on what it is added to, and is produced by the same company that makes aspartame. Neotame is found in some drinks, dairy products, frozen desserts, puddings, fruit juices.

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Sugar Alcohols
Sugar alcohols are also used to sweeten diet foods and drinks. These plant-based products include mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. Sugar alcohols aren’t nonnutritive sweeteners; they have 2.6 calories per gram but, they don’t cause tooth decay like table sugar. If you eat too much of them, sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea, bloating, and weight gain.

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But are These Artificial Sweeteners Safe?

The FDA has blessed artificial sweeteners with the phrase “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS); however, watchdog groups beg to differ, saying research on artificial sweeteners is flawed and doesn’t account for how long-term use of the additives may impact health. A fact no one can dispute is that the controversial sweeteners are made from chemicals, (some of which are known to be not only harmful, but truly toxic). Whether artificial sweeteners are dangerous for you may come down to how well-defended your own body is against the chemicals they contain.

So, the bottom line is: although artificial sweeteners are FDA-approved, and widely used, may people wonder about the safety of these sugar substitutes. But with rare exceptions (Phenylketonuria ), they appear to pose little or no risk when used in moderation.

Do you use artificial sweeteners? If so, which ones?

Learn more at: Mayoclinic.org

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