April 12, 2012

Do you add artificial sweeteners to your coffee? Then you may want to know the facts

Artificial sweeteners are in thousands of products that we consume everyday, especially when selecting diet products. Most commonly, sweeteners like Splenda and Equal are used to replace sugar in people's every day coffee dose. But before you rip open that sachet, you may want to know a few more of the facts.

Some people can be sensitive to artificial sweeteners and experience symptoms such as headaches and upset stomach, but otherwise, there is no credible information that aspartame — or any other artificial sweetener — causes brain tumors, or any other illness, says registered dietitian Wendy Vida. In saying that, there is no credible research to support these are safe for your body either. Artificial sweeteners are made with chemicals and researchers still don't know what effects these chemicals have on our bodies long term. 

Since artificial sweeteners are so much sweeter than sugar, a very small amount is needed to achieve the same sweetness one gets from sugar. The theory is, if used normally, the amounts you take in of these sweeteners is so minuscule it cannot cause harmful effects.


Splenda was invented by scientists trying to find a better pesticide. Splenda is "made from sugar" because the manufactuers take a sugar molecule and substitute three of its atoms with chlorine. Chlorine when ingested in your body turns to methanol then in turn gets absorbed as formaldehyde, which is the same kind of stuff used to embalm and preserve bodies or to make nail polish. Slightly alarming.... However, the FDA confirms Splenda is safe to for human consumption. There are many arguements against the FDA's standpoint, as can be imagined when looking at Splenda's origins and the lack of research or studies on its effects on humans. 

The manufacturer's own short-term studies showed that very high doses of sucralose (far beyond what would be expected in an ordinary diet) caused shrunken thymus glands, enlarged livers, and kidney disorders in rodents. The FDA decided that because these studies weren't based on human test animals, they were not conclusive. However, rats had been chosen for the testing specifically because they metabolize sucralose more like humans than any other animal used for testing. Hmm.


About 6000 products, including diet soft-drinks, gum, candy, yoghurt and Equal all contain aspartame. It's 200 times sweeter than sugar, and is the most sweet tasting of any artificial sweetener. It's a synthetic chemical combination that is comprised of approximately 50% phenylalanine, 40% aspartic acid, and 10% methanol.

Current evidence does not support this idea that aspartame could cause cancer, or that it is unsafe. According to the American Dietetic Association, aspartame’s safety is documented in more than 200 objective scientific studies. The FDA has concluded that aspartame is safe, and that there is no strong data to say otherwise.
In 2007, the most comprehensive look at the research was conducted, and the conclusion was, again, that aspartame is safe. An important caveat to that research – it was paid for by the company Ajinomoto, which makes aspartame. This question of bias results is a common issue in the studies of artificial sweeteners. There is a lot of scary evidence out there to report the harmful effects of aspartame, including headaches, birth defects, cancer, brain tumours, digestive problems and more.
When a product is so widely used, it often happens that there is some scientific scrutiny. So I would imagine this debate and these studies will continue for quite a while. With any artificial sweeteners, the best approach is to use in moderation. The FDA recommends a daily intake of no more than 50 mg of aspartame per kilogram of body weight. That amounts to 22 cans of diet soda for a 175-pound man, and 15 cans for a 120 pound woman.

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