As of 2018, most people are aware of the many types of damage caused by sugar. “Sugar is bad for your teeth, your body, and your mind,” says local periodontist, Dr. Christopher Henninger. “The more of it you can cut out, the better.”
With dozens of sugar substitutes on the market, how can we be sure that they won’t pose problems of their own?
The fact is, many of the sweeteners we love – even the ones that have soared in popularity in recent years – may have negative attributes that affect your health. From sweeteners that have spawned lawsuits to research that shows more harm than good, discover some of the most controversial sweeteners available today.
Considerations When Trying a New Sweetener
It’s easy to assume that any sugar substitute is healthier than sugar, and in most cases they are. But before making this assumption, it’s worthwhile to ask whether the sweetener is man made or natural, and whether there are additives used in the final product. Beyond that, many of the negative elements are discovered through long term research, meaning that the effects of newer sweeteners simply aren’t known yet. Ultimately, it’s worth doing a quick search online to see what kind of controversy surrounds your favorite sweetener and how it affects your health.
About the FDA’s GRAS Rating for Sugar Substitutes
It’s worth mentioning that most sugar alcohols and sweeteners earn a GRAS rating from the FDA, meaning that they’re Generally Recognized as Safe. This status implies that people have been using the substance for years with no identifiable harm. Note that this is a fairly vague rating that essentially admits that the deeper, long term effects of a substance aren’t available.
The First Sweetener Controversy – Saccharine Linked to Cancer
Before the 1970’s, sugar substitutes were considered perfectly safe and healthy. But when studies at the time started finding a link between saccharin and bladder cancer in lab rats, consumers began to wonder whether they could trust this seemingly safe sweetener.
Warning Labels and Modern Research
The issue even went so far that warning labels were required on diet sodas and other products that featured saccharine explaining that the food might be a cause of cancer. While this made people cautious about saccharine for decades, the Mayo Clinic admits that no legitimate research has found saccharine to be harmful in humans, including pregnant women.
Pepsi is Switching their Diet Cola Formula to Avoid Aspartame
Aspartame has been the primary sweetener in diet soda products for years, but against the backdrop of lawsuits and controversy surrounding this sweetener, sales have been declining. In an effort to make their diet products popular again, Pepsi is revamping their formula to leave out the aspartame in favor of sucralose and Ace-K.
The Real Dangers of Aspartame
In all likelihood, the decision to switch up the formula to include sweeteners that are less steeped in controversy probably will improve sales, but how accurate are the public’s suspicions about aspartame? According to research from the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, the link between aspartame and cancer is still being studied, and another study confirms that it impacts memory performance and produces oxidative stress in the brain.
Cocaine or Saccharin? A Study that Explored Addiction
This controversial study explored the impact of sweetener addiction in rats by giving them a choice: Cocaine or saccharin? As the rats overwhelmingly went to the saccharin, it became clear that even artificial sweeteners have an addictive effect. It turns out, any extremely sweet flavor can release dopamine and trigger a “feel-good response” that leads to addiction.
Why Does the FDA Classify Sugar Substitutes as “High-Intensity Sweeteners?”
When most people think of an intense flavor, it’s usually spiciness that comes to mind before sweetness. But since many of these artificial sweeteners are at least 200 times sweeter than sugar, they’ve earned the high-intensity label. Considering that any excessive sweetness can lead to addiction, it’s clear that frequent use of these ultra-sweet foods can create a habit that’s difficult to break.
Even Safe Sweeteners Should Be Treated as a “Lesser Evil”
Some sweeteners, such as monk fruit, are widely considered to be safe. But due to the addictive properties of sweeteners in general, experts advise using it and all sweeteners sparingly. Dietician for Street Smart Nutrition, Cara Harbstreet, explains:
“Monk fruit sweeteners are calorie-free, but that doesn’t mean they can be used with abandon,” says Harbstreet. “From a safety standpoint, there would be no negative physical effects. However, health encompasses our emotional and mental health as well, and low-calorie or calorie-free sweeteners are often associated with dieting behaviors that can damage one’s relationship with food.”
How Can Sweeteners Affect Our Relationship With Food?
If some sweeteners like monk fruit are healthy without any major negatives, then why would it be bad to include them in every meal? The answer lies in the way that sweetness affects the brain. Since these sweet flavors trigger a feel-good effect in the brain, using them excessively can send mixed signals and cause a lot of chaos. Soon, you’d be craving this high level of sweetness with every meal, as your blood-sugar and insulin levels run wild. Like most food-related issues, balance is key, and too much of a good thing can be a deal-breaker.
Which are Your Favorite Healthy Sweeteners?
While some sweeteners are steeped in controversy, others are perfectly safe and come with excellent benefits. By doing some solid research and weighing the sources, you can figure out whether your favorite sweetener is one that will expand your waistline and cause health damage or is a safe additive to your chosen foods. With a little moderation and insight, these sugar substitutes can be a healthy part of your diet plan, even for those who love to stay fit.