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  • Joanna Injore

Artificial sweeteners- are they safe?

Artificial sweeteners are added to sugar-free’ or ‘diet’ foods and drinks such as fizzy drinks, fruit juices and foods like jellies, yogurts and chewing gums and as a sugar replacement (or sucrose the chemical name for sugar).


Artificial sweeteners

In UK different types of artificial sweeteners are used in different brands*:


  • Aspartame in Canderel, Hermesetas granulated

  • Saccharin in Hermesetas mini sweeteners

  • Sucralose in Splenda

  • Acesulfame potassium (acesulfame-K) in Hermesetas Gold sweetener

  • Cyclamate in Hermesetas liquid

*Source Diabetes UK


Artificial sweeteners and cancer risk?


Studies performed in rats in the1970s, showed a link with cancer and saccharin which why its safety in humans was questioned. However later studies has confirmed there is no such link in humans.


How safe are they?


In the EU all sweeteners undergo regular testing by he European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The EFSA sets a acceptable daily intake (ADI), which is the maximum amount that is safe to consume each day, over the course of your lifetime- which you are unlikely to meet.


To put this into context, using aspartame in Diet Coke as an example, you would need to drink 15 cans (5.1 litres) daily over a lifetime to exceed your ADI!


sweet

Do they increase your taste for sweet stuff?


There is a suggestion that sweeteners can stimulate your appetite for sweet foods/drink but the evidence for this is inconclusive. Larger, long term studies are needed to fully explore this. However it is worth bearing in mind that sweeteners are much sweeter in taste than sugar, for example Saccharin is 300 to 500 times more sweeter than sugar (sucrose) so they may encourage your preference for sweet stuff overall.


Where can sweeteners be useful?


Artificial sweeteners are a useful substitute that can be used as a 'stepping stone' to reduce sugar in the diet for those with a 'sweet tooth' i.e. use to a sweet taste. In addition they can be used by diabetics as they do not cause a rise in blood glucose level. However often the foods that contain sweeteners are of low nutritional value ie. do not provide you a good range of protein, carbohydrate, fibre or vitamins and minerals so there may be healthier choices instead.


Take home message


Artificial sweeteners are safe to use, however there is probably a benefit of reducing these products as they often have little other nutritional benefits (i.e. do not contain vitamins or minerals).


If you want to reduce your taste for sweet foods long term its probably worth cutting back on sweeteners and the foods and drinks that contains these products, so your taste adjusts to less sweet stuff overall!


Useful references:


  1. European Food Safety Authority (2016). Sweeteners. Available at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/topics/topic/sweeteners

  2. Diabetes UK (2018) Position statement on the use of low or no calorie sweeteners https://www.diabetes.org.uk/resources-s3/2019-02/Our%20position%20on%20the%20use%20of%20low%20or%20no%20calorie%20sweeteners.pdf


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