Low-calorie sweeteners provide a sweet taste to food without the additional calories. They are often used in diet drinks, low-calorie sports drinks, sugar-free chewing gum, yoghurts and baked goods.
More and more people are consuming artificial sweeteners as an alternative to sugar to reduce calorie intake and improve health. Undoubtedly, artificially-sweetened products are heavily marketed as being healthy and beneficial for weight loss. Although common sense tells us that products containing fewer calories will benefit the weight conscious individual, common sense is not always right! Claims that artificial sweeteners in diet drinks may be hazardous to your health are backed by scientific evidence from some research groups, but a direct causation has not been drawn. An opinion article published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism reviews evidence on the negative impact of artificial sweeteners on health, raising red flags about all sweeteners.
Advice provided by the British Dietetics Association (BDA) is that there is no evidence to suggest that low-calorie sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose, are bad for you. In order for these ingredients to be added to food products in the first instance means that they have undergone rigorous testing. Artificial sweeteners are not new to the food industry. Aspartame for instance was first approved in the UK in 1982.
Following the publication of a number of reports recently, questioning the safety of artificial sweeteners, the Food Standards Agency have stated that all approvals of food additives should be kept under review as and when new scientific information becomes available. This has led to an upper limit for the safe intake of one artificial sweetener in particular – Aspartame. An adult would have to consume 14 cans of a sugar-free drink every day before exceeding safe limits.
Some studies in humans have shown that consumption of artificially sweetened beverages is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome as well as cardiovascular disease. These studies suggest that as few as one can of a diet fizzy drink per day is enough to significantly increase the risk of incurring health problems. Moreover, people who regularly consume artificial sweeteners show altered activation patterns in the brain’s pleasure centers in response to sweet taste, suggesting that these products may not satisfy the desire for sweets, leaving us still craving chocolate well into the evening.
The findings from these particular studies suggest that artificial sweeteners increase the risk for health problems to an extent similar to that of sugar. Susan Swithers of Purdue University recommends that the current public health message to limit the intake of sugars needs to be expanded to limit intake of all sweeteners, not just sugars.