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Artificial Sweeteners: Bad for you?

Conduct a google search on artificial sweeteners and you will be overwhelmed but the varied opinions surrounding the topic and whether or not they are bad for you. For every piece of research claiming the health benefits on one there is research to claim the opposite is true. Confused? Before deciding what sweetener you will use, you should have an idea of what the different types are and the potential benefits and risks are.

Artificial sweeteners available in Australia fall into the following main types:

• Acesuphame
• Aspartame such as Equal and Nutrasweet
• Cyclamate
• Saccharin such as Sweet’ N Low
• Sucralose such as Splenda

These products contain no calories so offer benefits for weight control, they don’t generally raise blood sugar levels so are appropriate for diabetics and don’t cause tooth decay as with natural sugar.
On the flip side, artificial sweeteners contain no calories – I know I already said that as a benefit but it can also be a concern since no calories may mean that you do not feel full and so will eat more. While the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies in the United States have found ‘no sound scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use cause cancer or other serious health problems’ there still persists the idea that they contribute to the prevalence of cancer, genetic abnormalities and other chronic diseases. There is also concern as to the long term effect of these chemicals on the body.

Also available are synthetic sugar substitutes which may be derived from naturally occurring substances such as herbs and sugar itself. Stevia is a fairly newly available product which is produced from a plant and is three times as sweet as sugar ideally meaning that you would use less for the same effect.

Unless you take the liquid sugar straight from the sugar cane then all sugar is refined and processed in some way. Sugar is easier for the body to break down into glucose but is a lot of calories, particularly in the quantities that many of us are consuming on a regular basis.

So what is best? Unrefined sugar, refined or processed sugar, sugar substitutes such as Stevia or artificial sweeteners? Well the jury is still out and a lot many research needs to be conducted on the effects of all of them so for now the best advice is everything in moderation, read the food labels carefully so you know exactly what you are putting into your body and be aware of the risks should you have a pre-existing condition such as diabetes. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by using artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes – food and drinks containing these substances still contain calories in other forms and you still need to watch your kilojoule intake and exercise to burn it off.
Ideally we would all consume a lot less sugar or sweeteners overall. So maybe that is where our efforts should lay – in reducing the intake rather than focusing on the type of sweetener. Got a craving for something sweet – grab some fruit instead.

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