Investigating the safety of sugar substitutes

Investigating the safety of sugar substitutes

Do you drink diet sodas, bake with Splenda, put Sweet'N Low in your coffee or go sugar-free with your sweets? It is a multi-billion dollar industry and nearly every restaurant has a tri-colored tray with some of the most popular artificial sweeteners.

While sugar substitutes save the calories, are they safe? That question was put to the test in this Healthcast.

Every morning, KPLC account executive, Stacy Cloud, doctors her coffee to taste. "I use Splenda in the morning with my coffee. I've done that for many years in an attempt to cut my calories," she said.

That calorie cutting, mixed with healthy eating and exercising has helped Cloud drop 50 plus pounds and she is not alone! The American Diabetes Association says 15 percent of us use sugar substitutes and there are lots to choose from, says Lake Charles Memorial Hospital registered dietitian, Cynthia Chantlin. "The aspartame, sucrolose and saccharin are popular, but then you also have your sugar alcohols, your natural sweeteners, which is your honey, molasses and agave. Then finally you have your novel sweeteners," she said.

Sugar substitutes have come a long way since 1879, when a Johns Hopkins researcher discovered a sweetness from coal tar: enter present day Sweet'N Low or saccharin.

Then there is aspartame in NutraSweet and Equal, followed by sucrolose in Splenda. "The difference is how sweet they are and how they break down in your body," said Chantlin.

If you compare one packet of sugar to a packet of two other popular sweeteners on the market, you will see that the sugar substitutes can be 200-600 times sweeter than one packet of sugar. Moderation is key when using artificial sweeteners. "Some people do experience headaches, others feel like it actually makes them feel more hungry," said Chantlin, "but a lot of it is a personal thing with how it affects you."

Lots of studies have questioned artificial sweeteners' link to cancer, however there have been no definitive results to take away the Food and Drug Administration's stamp of approval.  "Since it's still on the shelf and all the stores are still selling it, I'm hoping that it's safe," said Cloud.

Chantlin says there are some natural sweet options, like Stevia in Truvia, as well as agave nectar. It does need to be noted, though, that those options carry carbs and calories. "It can be used to sweeten your coffee, your tea, you can put a little bit in your oatmeal in the morning if you want it to be a little sweeter," said Chantlin.

While these sweeteners are considered a safe alternative to their full sugar counterparts, diet and exercise still top the list for the healthiest living.

The bulk of the artificial sweetener market is made up of diabetics that cannot have sugar. The only group told not to have artificial sweeteners is those with a condition called PKU that cannot tolerate aspartame.

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