Artificial sweeteners were first created by accident in 1879 with the discovery of saccharin. Then in the early 1950’s the first ‘diet’ drinks were made available on the market and artificial sweeteners gradually became the ‘healthier choice’. But are they as healthy as some people have been lead to believe?
There is no doubt that artificial sweeteners have their place. If you are a diabetic or have a ‘sweet tooth’, then these sweeteners are marketed as the perfect product for you to get your sweet kick, without overloading on calories or spiking your blood sugar levels. The only problem is that the evidence is starting to suggest that many of these sugar substitutes are actually posing a threat to our health.
Is this really so surprising considering they have been chemically created in a lab, and have to go through rigorous testing, including toxicological and clinical studies, before they are approved for human consumption?
In fact some artificial sweeteners that are approved for use in Australia have been banned in America! Cyclamate, for example, was prohibited in the U.S.A since 1969 because of studies linking it to having adverse effects on the male reproductive tract, yet is still used as an ingredient in many popular Australian ‘diet’ and ‘light’ products, which is more than a little concerning.
There are so many different forms of sweeteners today that they have been categorized into four groups:
Artificial Sweeteners - These are synthetic sugar substitutes that are popular because they have virtually no calories, don’t contribute to tooth decay and may be a safe substitute for diabetics. Unfortunately though, studies that date back to the 70’s indicate that some of these artificial sweeteners may cause a variety of health problems including the increased risk of cancer.
Artificial sweeteners include:
- Acesulfame potassium
Sugar Alcohols - These are derived from carbohydrates that form naturally in some fruits and vegetables, however they can also be manufactured. Unlike artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols contain some calories, though not as many as sugar, which is why it is still a popular substitute. It is also more popular amongst diabetics because the body doesn’t completely absorb sugar alcohols so it doesn’t raise the blood sugar levels as dramatically as sugar. They have been linked to digestive problems including bloating and having a laxative effect.
Sugar alcohols include:
- Hydrogenated starch hydrolysate
Novel Sweeteners - These are generally a combination of other sweeteners and can be derived from natural sources including vegetables, fruit, fungus and dairy products.
Novel sweeteners include:
- Stevia extracts
Natural Sweeteners - Though these natural sweeteners are from natural sources, they are still similar to table sugar in relation to their vitamin and mineral content, so despite what they may claim, it is still advisable to only consume them in small doses.
Natural sweeteners include:
- Agave nectar
- Maple syrup
- Date sugar
When it comes to sweet things, it is important that you know what you are dealing with. Some are better than others and if you are a diabetic then it is important you research the facts so that you know just what you are using.