Hello mam, can I use artificial sweeteners for weight loss?
Can I use sugar-free tablets during pregnancy?
Should I give sugar-free tablets to my son who has type 1 diabetes?
These are some frequently asked questions by patients in our clinic.
Let’s learn more about these artificial sweeteners.
What are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes that are used instead of regular table sugar (sucrose). They may also be derived from naturally occurring substances such as herbs or sugar itself. Artificial sweeteners are also known as intense sweeteners because they are many times sweeter than sugar.
Uses for artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are widely used in processed foods, including:
- Soft drinks, powdered drink mixes, and other beverages
- Baked goods
- Canned foods
- Jams and jellies
- Dairy products
Artificial sweeteners are popular for home use as well. Some can even be used in baking or cooking.
FDA has approved six artificial sweeteners for use: aspartame, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), saccharin, and advantame. Approval for two plant-based, high-intensity sweeteners: Stevia and extracts from monk fruit is under process.
Pros and cons of using artificial sweeteners:
- Artificial sweeteners add the sweetness to food the way natural sugar does.
- Compared to real sugar, artificial sweeteners have negligible calories, therefore claimed to have “No Calories” on the package.
- Before getting into a weight-loss diet, an individual can be familiarised to consumption of sugary foods and beverages. Stopping them altogether is difficult to many. The sweeteners help people slowly wean off from consuming real sugar.
- One benefit that makes artificial sweeteners famous is the low impact to the blood sugar unlike natural sugar does. This makes it a very useful tool in the management of diabetes.
- It’s possible to use artificial sweeteners in many ways. For example, it might be added to coffee or can be used while baking cakes, making sweets.
- As well, to enjoy better oral health, one may find that choosing artificial sweeteners over real sugar helps to avoid tooth decay.
- Improving food appearance, color, taste, and texture are a few other benefits of artificial sweeteners.
- Most of the artificial sweeteners, with the exception of sugar alcohols and stevia, are synthetic chemicals (not found in nature). Our body is unable to absorb them.
- Artificial sweeteners may also lead to other cravings. Research has shown that the brain reacts the same way to artificial sweeteners that it does with sugary sweets. Consuming them often may lead to an increased desire for high-calorie foods.
- Some people may experience side effects like headache, nausea, dizziness, bloating etc.
Contraindications for using artificial sweeteners:
- Those with phenylketonuria (PKU) should avoid aspartame consumption.
- The American Dietetic Association states that children under 2 years of age, pregnant women and lactating women should not use artificial sweeteners, even though they are deemed safe by the FDA.
- More studies need to be conducted, but scientists believe that there is also a relationship between sweeteners and certain cancers, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, autism, and systemic lupus.
It is recommended that sugar substitutes be consumed in moderate amounts, adhering to the acceptable daily intake standards set by regulatory agencies.
Acceptable daily intake levels:
The FDA provides guidance for manufacturers and consumers about the daily limits for consuming high-intensity sweeteners, a measure called Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI). For artificial sweeteners, FDA has established an ADI as an amount in milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day (mg/kg/d), indicating that a high-intensity sweetener does not cause safety concerns if estimated daily intakes are lower than the ADI. E.g. Stevia (pure extracted steviol glycosides) has an ADI of 4
Moderation is key:
When choosing sugar substitutes, it is important to be an understanding the consumer. Sugar substitutes can help with weight management. But they aren’t a magic bullet and should be used only in moderation. Keep in mind that processed foods, which often contain sugar substitutes, generally don’t offer the same health benefits as whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables. A doctor or dietician should be consulted before adding these sugar alternatives to a regular diet to ensure that the benefits outweigh the risks.