By Chris Hammerlund
On some days, I believe that almost every artificial addition to your diet is an invitation to trouble. On other days – after I read more research – I calm down and let common sense bubble to the top.
But some arguments seem like they go on forever without a final, unequivocal yes or no.
For me, the fastest moving targets are artificial sweeteners.
They are everywhere because they generally add no calories to your body and are almost cosmically sweeter – 160 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. Also, your body doesn’t absorb much of the artificial sweetener; so you get a very small calorie bump.
The staff at the Harvard Medical School did a full assessment of current research and offers a general overview. Yes, Harvard doctors say, the five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners are fine, as long as you don’t overindulge.
Your body is naturally trained by culture, human physiology and most of your environment to love sugar and how it makes you feel. But it’s also true that you can “unlearn” your desire for sweet. Even more useful, deliberate food decisions can be changed to turn down the sweet meter in your body.
Of course, there are some exceptions to blanket support. Some research remains unconvinced about aspartame’s safety, and even more doubts about saccharin, the oldest of the field. There are studies that show a higher risk of cancer in some animal tests, and the sweetener was nearly banned in 1977 over those concerns, but connection to human cancer has never been verified.
As for the others, according to Harvard:
Acesulfame K is 200 times sweeter than sugar and can be used in baked goods. Ninety clinical studies say it’s safe.
Saccharin (Sweet ’N Low, Sugar Twin, others): It’s 200–700 times sweeter than sugar.
Aspartame (Nutra-Sweet, Equal, others): The key is “recommended levels.” Read the label carefully. People with a disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU) should avoid it because they can’t metabolize an amino acid found in aspartame. That means it accumulates in the body to dangerous levels. Aspartame is 160–220 times sweeter than sugar.
Sucralose (Splenda): Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar and is marketed as being “made from sugar.” Its manufacturers use sugar as the starting point. However, sugar converts to the non-caloric sucralose by changing chemical makeup. It’s not sugar any longer. Granulated Splenda can be substituted for sugar, spoon-for-spoon, in baking and cooking. There is also a new product called Splenda Blend that is half sugar, half Splenda.
Neotame: The newest approved sweetener, neotame is 7,000-13,000 times sweeter than sugar. The same company produces NutraSweet (aspartame). It is derived from aspartame, but with one chemical change. This enables the body to metabolize neotame differently than aspartame, so products containing neotame are not required to carry the PKU warning.
The American Dietetic Association says OK to all five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners for people with diabetes, pregnant women, and children.
But you’ll still want to keep an eye on total calories, because sugar-free is not calorie-free.
If you want to go lower-sweet deliberately, try drinking flavored seltzer water instead of diet soda; cut back on the sugar you add to foods.
With a little time and training, your taste buds can learn to enjoy other ways of sweetening food, like blueberries in your oatmeal instead of maple syrup; compare grams of sugar when buying packaged foods. Some brands may have less sugar than others; read labels and packaging carefully. (Always).
Many products contain artificial sweeteners when you might not expect them to; likewise, some reduced-sugar products don’t use artificial sweeteners.
On other hand, if artificial sweeteners are relatively safe, how about sugar itself? There is a debate. We’ll tackle that later in the month.
Who am I, and why would a person listen to me? Both fair questions. I’m Christine Hammerlund and I’ve been a nurse for years. I have delivered babies, saved lives, and cared for hundreds of patients through their medical triumphs and tragedies. Now I run Assured Healthcare at http://www.assuredhealthcare.com. We're a multi-million dollar medical staff provider in Illinois. I live in Antioch, Ill. Got health questions for me, whether large or small? I’ll answer. Visit us at http://www.facebook.com/AssuredHealthcareStaffing and Chrishammerlund@yahoo.com