Artificial Sweetners: A Special Report

What is it about sweet stuff? We seem to crave it. The body has its own way of dealing with it that leads us into a vicious cycle that spirals out of control at times. Eating too much sugar can lead to a wealth of empty calories each day that leave us feeling more tired than if we had stayed up all night. What is the solution?

Chemical companies seem to think that the solution lies in artificial sweeteners. This is a buzzword that everyone uses today. It has also been intertwined with the use of “sugar substitutes” and “dietary supplements.” The term that can be used legally is often dependent on the approval of the substance by the FDA. Until it is approved, it can be called a “dietary supplement.” All the public knows is that it is not sugar and thus has to be good for you.

Or, is it? In this report, we will look at those artificial sweeteners that have been around for decades and some that are newer to us. Where do they come from? What do they look like? How can you use them? And, are they safe?

One thing that those who oppose artificial sweeteners say is that there were fewer health problems with table sugar. Yes, it contributes empty calories but the name of the game is moderation. Unfortunately, with so many names for sugar, it is hard to define moderation when just about all processed foods contain some form of sugar. The whole issue is confusing.

Some of these sweeteners have possible side effects that you might need to be aware of before you use them. Is it hearsay or scientific fact? You will find out as you read on about the hype and the truth and what is actually healthier for you and your family.

FDA Approval

One thing that you should know is that unless the FDA approves a food or drug, it is not monitored as closely. As long as it is labeled as a supplement, it can be placed on store shelves. The personal caution here is that people use common sense and do their own homework before investing heavily into these sweet alternatives.

When the FDA approves it, the requirements to be called an “artificial sweetener” are more rigorous. Any side effects or ill effects need to be reported and investigated. But, even if the FDA approves it that doesn’t mean that it is right for you or your body. Each person is different and all sweeteners may not agree with you. For certain people, there might be warning labels on the packaging warning against using it.

Xylitol – Appearance and Origin

The one on everyone’s lips these days is xylitol. In its refined form it is a white crystalline substance that almost looks like table sugar. It comes from the birch tree and is thus classified as a tree sugar much like maple sugar comes from the maple tree.

What sets this sugar substitute apart is that it has a chemical structure that actually helps the teeth. With table sugar, there is a fermentation process that occurs in the mouth. Fermentation occurs with wine and other beverages that you want to age. Sugar is broken down into an acidic compound in the presence of bacteria for this to happen.

In the mouth, an acidic environment encourages tooth decay, gum disease and periodontal disease. Tooth enamel keeps them hard and protected. Plaque erodes that enamel leaving teeth vulnerable. Once the enamel is gone it will not come back.

The molecular substance of xylitol has five carbons and doesn’t interact with bacteria in the mouth. Instead it maintains a neutral pH environment to control the amount of bacteria that can harm the teeth. In this way, tooth decay is reduced and you have a fresher mouth when combined with brushing regularly and flossing.

Xylitol also is a bulk sugar, meaning that it contains substance that is not digested by the body. Since only part of the sugar is digested, fewer calories are being ingested. It is sweet like sugar so your sweet tooth is satisfied and your teeth look great. There are 2.4 calories per gram of xylitol.

Uses

Xylitol is used in gum, candy and breathe mints since it has been approved by the FDA. Since people chew a lot of gum, they are getting sweetness and doing something good for their mouth. This is great for diabetics who need to keep their sugar intake to a minimum to control their blood sugar levels.

Since it is crystalline like sugar, it can be kept in a sugar bowl and scooped like sugar. Where do you use sugar on the table? It can sweeten your hot drinks, sprinkled on fruit for an added sweetness and used for baking. When you use it where the recipe calls for sugar, only replace a portion of the sugar. Mixing it together may give you a better benefit and consistency to your recipes than using it alone or just using all regular sugar.

Side Effects

The reports on this one have all been good so far. The pros outweigh any cons at this point. For the mouth, it is the best news because we always try to fight the good fight against sweets and tooth decay especially in our children. Like with anything else, use in moderation to avoid any issues later on down the road.

Splenda (Sucralose) – Appearance and Origin
Have you heard of sucralose? No? Then you have probably heard of Splenda its trade name? It has been around for many years now.

The claim in the commercials is that it is made from sugar so it is as close to natural as you can get. People who were using one of the older artificial sweeteners turned to this. Splenda is white and powdery. It is much lighter than sugar and also many times sweeter. This product was developed by a British company and marketed in the United States.

Splenda is what is called “non-nutritive” meaning that it has no nutritious value to the body but also no calories to adversely affect your diet. It can add that sweet taste that you crave without the calories that make it so detrimental.

Uses

Splenda can be bought in granulated form in individual packets and also in bulk containers. It is one of the first caloric sweeteners that said on the label that it could be used in place of sugar in recipes. Since it comes from sugar, it should be okay, right? It measures out just like sugar so you can use an equivalent amount in your baking recipes.

In bulk it is easy to use too much to sweeten drinks, so use a little at first and then add as needed. With it being so many times sweeter than sugar, you don’t need much.

Side Effects

Splenda has come under fire in recent years. Opponents wonder if it is safe for use by humans. Since it is a compound that is made from sugar but through a chemical process, other factors can affect how it will react in the body.

To create Splenda, sucralose is chemically created by using chlorine, methanol and acetic acid. Who wants to digest those? According to manufacturers, these compounds are not retained and sucralose is safe to eat. Ninety-five percent of the resulting compound is digested by the body with the other five percent removed as waste.

Still, those who are against it are looking further down the road. What if it causes more serious side effects in later years from extended use? Since you can’t test for specific sweeteners, those who contend that it has caused them headaches or other ill effects can’t prove it and are advised to stop using it.

Sweet ‘N Low (Saccharin) – Appearance and Origin

Saccharin was the first artificial sweetener on the market. Since sugar was getting a bad rap, everyone jumped on the bandwagon for this one. It comes in a nifty pink packet and is finely powdered and white.

Older people and those who are diabetic still reach for it for their coffee, tea and other foods that need a little sweetening. It is said to be as much as 700 times sweeter than sugar. For some it has an aftertaste that they can’t get rid of and they don’t use it. But others swear by it.

It was discovered accidentally in a lab in the 1800s. It is made using different chemicals such as toluene, sulfur dioxide and chlorine. The substance came under scrutiny in the 1900s by the FDA and has been used ever since.

Uses

It is a wonderful discovery for diabetics. In the body, Sweet ‘N Low is not digested by the body but goes right through the system. In that way, it doesn’t affect the blood sugar. For those who are trying to keep their blood sugar under control this is a good way to get the sweetness without the added calories or the sugar spikes.

It is packaged to be used in recipes and on the table. It is stable when tested in heat, but because of the bitter aftertaste and the fact that it has a lighter consistency than sugar, it is not often used in baking as a substitute. It has found its way into chewing gum, candy and processed sweets.

Side Effects

Saccharin came under scrutiny in the early 1970s when laboratory testing showed that rats that were given different doses of the artificial sweetener were developing bladder cancer. The public findings made the FDA take another look at Sweet ‘N Low and consider taking it off the market.

Because it was the only substance of its kind at the time, people were reluctant to let it go and so it remained on shelves. If you are older than 35, you might remember the warnings that were printed on every box and packet. People were warned that it had caused cancer in laboratory animals.

Further research found that these were male rats and other factors were coming into play with the diagnosis. Female rats were not being affected. The warnings ceased but those who know about them remember that they were there. But, despite the controversy in decades past, Sweet ‘N Low has stood the test of time and is still being used today.

NutraSweet/Equal (Aspartame) – Appearance and Origin

For a long time in the nineties, we heard about NutraSweet. It was the new face of artificial sweeteners. It was used in everything from soft drinks to low fat yogurt to sugar free ice cream. People clamored for it. There was no aftertaste like saccharin and it was sweeter than sugar.

It was created in a lab like other artificial sweeteners. It was approved by the FDA as an artificial sweetener. It is white and crystalline like most others as well. It can be used in individual packets for sweetening drinks or in a bigger box when it is used in baking along with sugar.

Uses

NutraSweet is the artificial sweetener that was used in many products to give the sweet taste without the calorie load. Many people didn’t even know that they were drinking or eating NutraSweet but just knew that they were getting the sweet without the sugar.

Side Effects

Although good for a long time, eventually aspartame came under fire. People were getting sick with metabolic acidosis. This was believed to be caused by aspartame in beverages like soft drinks. When the temperature of the compound rose above a certain degree, the chemical makeup began to change.

The result was a change from the sweetener aspartame to formaldehyde and then formic acid. We all know that formaldehyde is used to preserve animals for the laboratory. It is also a carcinogen. In other words people were getting sick.

Also, it is not safe for being used in any form by people who suffer from phenylketonuria. This is a condition that affects amino acid metabolism of phenylalanine. Aspartame contains phenylalanine. When it is present in high doses, those with the disorder can experience mental retardation and behavior problems. A warning label was placed on all substances containing NutraSweet or Equal for PKU sufferers.

Stevia – Appearance and Origin

This is a substance that has been talked about a lot as well. It comes from a plant and is classified as an herbal sweetener. It has been used in Japan since the 1970s with success. The plant has sweet leaves that were used as is to sweeten drinks.

The extract of it is also sweet and is used to create the stevia substance that we use today. It is marketed under the name of Truvia. The extract is quite a bit sweeter than sugar so much is not needed. The sweet taste comes through slowly but it lasts much longer on the tongue than sugar.

Uses

Stevia is used to sweeten drinks like tea and coffee. It has been used in Coca-Cola as an herbal sweetener.

Side Effects

As an herbal sweetener, before FDA approval, it was not monitored like other FDA approved products. As such, opponents were worried about the purity of the substance that we were getting. Even though it was defined as a “supplement,” people still had the option to use it if they wanted to.

It also came under fire due to one of the compounds in it called, rebaudioside A (rebiana). It was believed in some clinical testing that when stevia was broken down in the body, this compound contributed to some cancers. This halted the FDA for a while.

Then, other testing was done that refuted rebiana as being a contributing factor to cancer. The research went back and forth but the substance gained approval in 2008 and was marketed as Truvia. Some people who use it have experienced nausea.

Other side effects that are claimed for stevia include many positive ones:
*Helps balance blood sugar
*Sweeter than sugar
*Improves digestion
*Increases energy levels
*Can be used to speed healing

Acesulfame K (Sunett) – Appearance and Origin

This sweetener was brought on the scene in the 1980s. it is not seen under its name Sunett in very many places. Mostly it is a flavor enhancer that is used in a variety of foods. If you read the label, you will find acesulfame K in more than one place and you might be surprised. It was discovered in a lab in the 1960s by a German chemist. It too is white and crystalline in nature.

Uses

It is used to add and prolong sweetness in processed foods. It also has no calories so it is not detrimental to your waistline. Upon approval, the FDA issued guidelines for the allowable daily intake of it per pound of body weight to be safe. For acesulfame K it is 15mg/day per kg of body weight.

Side Effects

There has not been a lot of testing done on this compound called an artificial sweetener. The lack of testing has many concerned about possible long term effects in the future. It is known that Sunett contains methyl chloride, which, from prolonged exposure, can lead to nausea, vomiting, cancer, headaches, and liver dysfunction to name a few. No further testing is being required right now.

Sugar has been around for a long time. There weren’t any problems with it in the early years of its use but maybe we didn’t have the technology then to test to see if it had caused problems. Other than gaining weight from overindulgence in rich foods and sweets, there was no way to tell if this affected the body internally.

Once medicine began to catch up, scientists began looking for alternatives to the problems that sugar caused. Artificial sweeteners came into existence. We have been using them for almost 100 years now and still have issues with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other metabolic diseases.

Are artificial sweeteners helping the cause or furthering our destruction and ill health? You have to decide for yourself. with the information in this report you will be armed with the knowledge needed to make an intelligent decision for yourself and your family. If you are already using some sweeteners without any ill effects then you don’t have to look for a problem where none exists.

But if you have questions, the information here can get you off on a good path to finding the answers. We all need to be informed consumers who don’t just take it at face value that food companies have our best interests at heart or do all of their homework. The truth about safety is up to you.