May 22, 2012

The Sweet Paradox: Natural or Artificial Sweetners?

Sugar in Drinks!

A girl in a restaurant orders a burger with fries, and then orders a diet coke. “Do the calories really matter when you are eating all this food?” her friends around her claim. Yes it does. One can of regular coke contain, more or less, 38 grams of sugar.
 Scientists have all agreed about the malicious effect of consuming lots of sugar. Unfortunately, sugar is embeded in almost all of all food . Sugar plays a major role in the production of thousands of food products from cured meats through preserves and frozen fruits to confections.

Companies tend to put sugar in food products for many reasons:
  • Taste : it provides the sweetness flavor and boosts other flavors in food.
  • Texture and other physical properties: crystallization, stickiness, gel formation
  • Safety ( sugar is a natural preservative ): against yeasts and molds.
  • Dehydration effect ( removes moisture)
( Source: Chapter book; The Role of Sugar in the Food Industry)

One research suggests that animals use sweet taste to predict the caloric contents of food. This is a biological phenomenon that prevents animals from over eating and becoming unfit and unhealthy.

Despite all these beneficial uses of sugar, the intake of sugars has been attributed as the number one leading cause for obesity ( esp childhood obesity) even more than fat.  They also cause dental cavities, tooth decay, and other obesity related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hypertriglyceridemia, kidney and heart diseases( Source the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)

Despite this fact, sugar lobbyists  have been effective in having their messages that "sugar doesn't harm health—but less sugar consumption harms their economies" and thus it accepted by some governments despite evidence to the contrary ( Source from The journal of American medical association on the global burden of chronic diseases!)

These disputes  created a demand for subsitutes of sugar. Food Technologists rushed in searching and creating sweetners that have reduced calories but at the same time offer a favorable sweet taste. So do these substituted “diet” sugars offer the true and charming help?   


What are  artificial sweetners?

Substituted sugars are known as artificial sweeteners that help “sweeten” food to make them more palatable to our taste. But they don’t make us, nor do they control our appetite. Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes, but can also be from naturally sources such as herbs or sugar itself. They exhibit intense sweetness that’s why smaller amounts are only needed to reach the same sweetness of regular sugar. They are found in drinks, chewing gum, jellies, baked goods, candy, fruit juice and ice cream.

Are they safe?

 In the US, the Food and Drug administration (FDA) have categorized them under the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list or as food additives. The 1958 Food Additives Amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act states: “there is evidence that the substance is safe under the conditions of its intended use. And the specific data and information that demonstrate safety depend on the characteristics of the substance, the estimated dietary intake, and the population that will consume the substance."  ( Source: Cancer and Artificial Sweetners )

Artificial sweeteners currently approved by FDA are:

Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One), Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), Neotame, Saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet'N Low), Sucralose (Splenda), and sugar derived alcohols(sorbitol, malitol, xylitol)

The Paradox of Artificial Sweetners

Despite this fact, artificial sweeteners have stirred a debate for  decades!
  • Critics claim that artificial sweetners cause a variety of health problems such as cancer. That's largely because of studies dating to the 1970s that linked saccharin to bladder cancer in laboratory rats.
  • However, there is a general accord among scientists that aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose are harmless when consumed in moderation. And while cyclamate is still banned in the U.S., many other countries still allow it as in Canada.
  • Moreover, the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies state clearly that there’s still no sound scientific evidence that these approved sweeteners cause cancer or any illness.
  •  And several research studies confirm that they are generally safe in limited quantities. Nevertheless, FDA has set an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for each artificial sweetener. This is the maximum amount considered safe to consume each day over the course of your lifetime. ADIs are usually 100 times less than the smallest amount that might cause health concerns.

One credible source that talks about The diet soda puzzle is Marion Nestle, the prominant nutrition professor in NYU and writer of food politics . She states the following on her blog " Diet sodas, which are just water plus one or more artificial sweeteners, ought to save tons of calories and help people manage weight and metabolic imbalances, right? You might think so, but that’s not how the research is turning out. A big, complicated study of the effects of diet on “metabolic syndrome” (meaning multiple risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, etc) finds diet soda to be one of the factors associated with predisposition. OK. The study was based on food frequency questionnaires and other results are also hard to interpret but this isn’t the first study to find diet sodas coming out on the wrong side. The artificial sweeteners might be at fault but my guess is that diet sodas are a marker for some of the less healthful dietary practices. You know my rule from What to Eat: never eat anything with anything artificial in it."

Nestle also states on her blog in another post about artificial sweetners that The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the agency that rules on health claims and food safety, is reviewing the safety of the artificial sweetener aspartame. It has just released the 112 studies it reviewed in the 1980s along with hundreds of studies submitted more recently. Its re-evaluation is expected in 2012.

In conclusion, the existence of such dilemma up till now makes us doubt the scientific research done. Results of some studies are actually serving the wealthiest and influential food companies that can easily manipulate governmental agencies and laws. Thus, one has to be aware that artificial sweeteners are not always the savvy choice.

The key is to consume them should be in moderation, as they are not always the magic helpers in reducing weight. It is important to realize that a sugar free product doesn’t mean it is free of calories. Thus, one may still gain weight. Remember it is always good to choose natural substitutes for sugar such as honey, natural “date sugar, grape juice concentrate, and molasses.

Soda's Evil Twin
Created by: Health Science

1 comment:

  1. Wow! That blog gives enough information about artificial sweetners. Some of them may be close to natural but once you get addicted, its difficult to stop using them again. There is no alternate to the nature. Only those sweeteners hould b used which are 100% extract of natural plants.