Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe for Your Health?
Confused about whether to ditch sugar or replace it with similar-tasting diet versions, a.k.a. artificial sweeteners? Sugar substitutes have been a staple of low-calorie diets and foods. But are they safe for you? New research shows your health may be at risk.
Last month, a new study of French adults found a link between consuming these sweetener replacements and increased cardiovascular disease risk. The researchers also found associations between the consumption of artificial sweeteners to cancer. A French-conducted study, NutriNet Sante, involves 100,000 participants. It is one of the most extensive studies of its kind.
Mathilde Touvier, head of the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research, said, “It’s an important step — a new brick to the wall — regarding the weight of evidence that we would train together regarding artificial sweeteners and health.”
Humans are wired to crave and enjoy sweet foods as they give high amounts of calories. Artificial sweeteners can trick the brain into believing that you are consuming sugar. Humans have tastebud receptors that can identify sweetness. The artificial sweeteners connect to these receptors. Thus, creating a sweet sensation that’s the same as when eating sugar.
These sweetener replacements are intensely sweet, sometimes a hundred times sweeter than regular sugar. While normal sugar has shown dire effects on health, many favored sugar alternatives as they offer the same sweetness but fewer calories.
Researchers behind a large-scale nutrition study out of France say they've found associations between consumption of artificial sweeteners, like aspartame and sucralose, and cardiovascular disease and cancer. https://t.co/8zVNY3d8PF
— CBC News (@CBCNews) October 29, 2022
Artificial Sweeteners Side Effects
Aside from the new French study’s health effects, previous researchers have found that sugar alternatives can trigger gut microbiomes and increase blood sugar levels. A dietitian and health columnist, Leslie Beck, stated in an interview with The Dose’s Dr. Brian Goldman, “There is growing evidence to challenge the assumption that artificial sweeteners are metabolically inert substances. And I do think these findings should give us pause.”
Furthermore, the recent NutriNet study involving cardiovascular health was published in the British Medical Journal. The research found that consuming aspartame was linked to higher rates of cerebrovascular events like stroke. In addition, they also found that sucralose and acesulfame potassium were connected to higher coronary heart disease rates in participants who consume alternative sweeteners compared to non-consumers.
The French group also conducted another study they published last March, showing another result. They have found that aspartame and acesulfame potassium is associated with cancer risks. Moreover, the WHo also found through nearly 300 studies in April that there are short-term benefits to weight loss when artificially sweetened drinks replace sugar-based drinks.
The study also found that water is still better for weight loss. It also suggests “the possibility of long-term harm in the form of increased risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality.” Still, it came with a warning that they needed to conduct further studies on this claim.
A professor and nutrition researcher at the University of Gulph, David Ma, commented on the recent French study. He said that while findings reveal cardiovascular health risks, there are also “signals” for possible long-term health effects. But it doesn’t mean consumers are facing immediate dangers.
David Ma said, “I would say that, you know, the sky is not going to fall because we have artificial sweeteners in our diet. But certainly, we need to have an eye out for everything in our diet, including artificial sweeteners, in terms of the short-term and the longer-term effects.”
On a positive note, the French researcher, Touvier, said that infrequent consumption of artificial sweeteners poses low health risks. They also noted that moderation is vital.
How to lessen the use of artificial sweeteners
If the new study results are worrisome, Beck said that cutting back is vital. She advises:
- Changing to carbonated waters with flavor for those with pop cravings
- Gradually lessening sweetener consumption – use a quarter pack less every week
- Using plain yogurt instead of sweet yogurts
Artificial Sweeteners List
Artificial sweeteners have become a holy grail for low-calorie diets in this modern age of fad diets. It is a common ingredient in many foods and drinks. You can also find it in frozen desserts, candies, chewing gum, pastries, cereals, and canned goods. Many items labeled sugar-free or diet contain one or more sugar substitutes.
Some sweetener replacements are available in supermarkets as standalone items. Currently, the US FDA has approved six artificial sweeteners:
- Aspartame – Sunett, Sweet One
- Acesulfame- NutraSweet, Sugar Twin, Equal
- Neotame- Newtame
- Sucralose – Splenda
- Advantame – no brand names
- Saccharin – Sweet Twin, Necta Sweet, Sweet’N Low