Since they were first introduced on the market, artificial sweeteners have caused a lot of controversy. Some have argued that they cause cancer while others maintain they are perfectly safe. We’re here to help you decide if artificial sweeteners are appropriate for you.
“Sugar-Free” Safety: A Review
Popular amongst diabetics and dieters, artificial sweeteners are synthetic substances used as substitutes for sugar. They include Saccharin, Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Sucralose, and Neotame and are 160-13,000 times sweeter than normal table sugar.
Though some may leave an aftertaste, they contribute little to no dietary calories, as the body cannot efficiently absorb them. While their sweetness decreases the volume needed to enhance flavor, frequent or excessive consumption (10-50 grams) of artificial sweeteners can lead to gas, bloating, diarrhea, and intestinal discomfort.
So far, studies conducted on the safety of artificial sweeteners have been conflicting or inconclusive, leading many experts to debate whether or not artificial sweeteners should be legal. Two particularly famous studies linked saccharin to bladder cancer in rats, an association that could not be shown in humans, and aspartame to increased incidence of leukemia and lymphoma in humans, the validity of this study being questionable. Though considered to be “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS), the FDA has set Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) levels for each artificial sweetener. This level is set at 100 times less than the smallest amount that might cause health concerns when consumed daily over the course of a lifetime.
While they may be legally GRAS, some studies have linked the use of artificial sweeteners to increased weight gain and obesity. Though animal and observational studies have seen conflicting results linking artificial sweeteners to cancer, their association with increased BMIs can put individuals at a higher risk for certain cancers. Despite the controversy, the National Cancer Institute considers the five types of artificial sweeteners currently approved by the FDA to be safe for consumption by most people, including children and pregnant woman.
If you are concerned about the safety of artificial sweeteners and cancer risk, you may choose to avoid certain commercially produced foods (check the Nutrition Facts label), especially anything labeled “Sugar-Free.”
Remember, as with all things, only consume artificial sweeteners in moderation and be cautious if you start to experience symptoms of intestinal discomfort or weight gain.