Sucralose, saccharin and aspartame (more commonly known as Splenda, Sweet-n-low and Equal), are the three most common non-nutritive sweeteners(NNS) used in food. Together this dynamic trio equates to one of the most controversial topics in nutrition: Are sweeteners bad for a person’s health? This article provides a breakdown of these sweeteners including the good, bad and downright ugly that research has shown. Be not afraid; these products are all approved by the FDA and have ample research to back their claims.
Sucralose, being the newest addition to the NNS family, was approved by the FDA in 1998. With Splenda as its street name, or the yellow sweetener packet, it is actually made from sugar. The chemical makeup is not recognized to be digested in the body therefore not adding any calories to your food or (more importantly) inches to your waistline! The FDA critically examined over 110 studies on Splenda and gave it the initial stamp of approval in 1998 for fifteen food categories ranging from a table top sweetener to be used in beverages. Over the next year the FDA reviewed more studies and Splenda went full steam ahead to be used as a general-purpose sweetener in all foods. So what are the main pros and cons of this new beau? One of the biggest cons shown is that it being 600 times sweetener than sugar it should be used conservatively or have foods sweetened to taste. Too much Splenda may not be ideal for everyone’s taste buds. One of the biggest pros is that you can bake with Splenda. Feel free to tailor your favorite recipe by swapping sugar for Splenda, and cut some calories! New products now available from Splenda are packets with one gram of daily fiber and flavored Splenda. Splendid way to get in some fiber or flavor with your favorite drinks, wouldn’t you say?
Saccharin, which happens to be the oldest NNS of our dynamic trio, was discovered in 1879 and generally recognized as safe (GRAS) until the early 1970’s. The GRAS are substances that the have been safe in long-term food usage or proven safe through science (more research, of course!) Saccharin, or Sweet-n-low, was pulled from the GRAS in 1972 because research was showing that this product, older than some of our founding fathers, was showing negative side-effects laboratory rats. By 1977 the FDA proposed a ban after a study where the rats developed bladder cancer after receiving high doses of saccharin. The foods still using the product were mandated to carry a warning sign of the recent research results. Delving further into the correlation of bladder cancer and saccharin, the National Cancer Institute found that the cancer caused in the rats was from a mechanism irrelevant to humans. By 2000, the National Toxicology Program took saccharin off of the “potential cancer causing risk” list followed by the warning label removed from foods containing the product in 2001. Second guessing grabbing the pink packet of sweetener for your morning coffee? Don’t. Over 30 human subjects were studied and none of them were reported to have developed negative side effects, such as cancer. This product is 300 times sweeter than sugar with no calories. Like its competitor, Splenda, it can be used in baking and is considered a general-purpose table top sweetener.
Last but not least is aspartame, most commonly found in diet soft drinks. This sweetener has rolled across the thirty year milestone of approval by the FDA since1981. This 200 times sweeter than sugar sweetener is found on the condiment station in the blue Equal packet and is constantly creating a media buzz. The product was initially considered safe in gum, breakfast cereals and other dry products but then expanded to sodas in 1983 and given approval for usage as a general-purpose sweetener in 1996. The basis of research for aspartame looked at the effects of the product in a level 100 times higher than what humans were expected to consume. The outcomes showed that even at this high dosage, it did not create adverse effects for the laboratory animals. The acceptable daily intake level for aspartame is 50 mg/kg/d. And that translates into what? It means that a 150 pound person (70 kg) can drink upwards of twenty 12 ounce cans of diet soda sweetened with aspartame everyday for their whole lifetime. Am I suggesting drinking twenty 12 ounce cans of aspartame sweetener diet soda everyday? No, for one, that would be an expensive habit. Two, it is important to remember that that does not take into account if you use aspartame in other aspects of your diet.
There you have it! Our dynamic trio has a multitude of research to prove that these non-nutritive sweeteners are safe for the population to consume. Since these are zero calories, replacing sugar with them, may help control your calories. But it is important to remember that they are not appetite suppressants and weight loss is not guaranteed. Be careful not to eat more because you are using these. Everything in moderation is best, and if you still aren’t convinced by the research studies, replace your diet sodas with water. Your body won’t complain about that one bit!
The Potential Toxicity of Artificial Sweetener. Christina R. Whitehouse BSN, RN, Joseph Boullata, PharmD, RPh, BCNSP and Linda A. McCauley, PhD, RN, FAAN, FAAOHN, June 2008 Vol 56 No 6. Pg 251-261.
“Artificial Sweeteners: No Calories … Sweet!” FDLP Electronic Collection Archive. FDA Consumer Magazine, July-Aug. 2006. Web. 26 Apr. 2011. <http://permanent.access.gpo.gov/lps1609/www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2006/406_