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Are Artificial Sweeteners Healthy?

Health + Wellness

By Alina Petre

Artificial sweeteners are often the cause of heated debate. On one hand, they're claimed to increase the risk of cancer and negatively affect your blood sugar and gut health. On the other hand, most health authorities consider them safe and many people use them to eat less sugar and lose weight.

Artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes, are chemicals added to some foods and beverages to make them taste sweet.Photo credit: Shutterstock

This article reviews the evidence on artificial sweeteners and their health effects

What Are Artificial Sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners, or sugar substitutes, are chemicals added to some foods and beverages to make them taste sweet.

People often refer to them as "intense sweeteners" because they provide a taste that is similar to table sugar but up to several thousand times sweeter.

Although some sweeteners contain calories, the amount needed to sweeten products is so small that you end up consuming almost no calories (1).

Bottom Line: Artificial sweeteners are chemicals used to sweeten foods and beverages. They provide virtually zero calories.

How Do Artificial Sweeteners Work?

The surface of your tongue is covered by many taste buds. Each taste bud contains several taste receptors that detect different flavors (2).

When you eat, the different food molecules contact your taste receptors.

A perfect fit between a molecule and a receptor sends a signal to your brain, allowing you to identifying the taste (2).

For example, the sugar molecule fits perfectly into the taste receptor for sweetness, like a lock and key, allowing your brain to identify the sweet taste.

The molecules of artificial sweeteners are similar enough to sugar molecules that they fit on the sweetness receptor.

However, they are generally too different from sugar for your body to break them down into calories. This is why they have a sweet taste without the added calories.

Only a minority of artificial sweeteners have a structure that your body can break down into calories. Because only very small amounts of artificial sweeteners are needed to make foods taste sweet, you consume virtually no calories (1).

Bottom Line: Artificial sweeteners taste sweet because they are recognized by the sweetness receptors on your tongue. They provide virtually zero calories because most cannot be broken down by your body.

What Are the Names of Artificial Sweeteners?

These artificial sweeteners are authorized for use in the U.S. and/or within the European Union (3, 4):

  • Aspartame: 200 times sweeter than table sugar. Aspartame is known under the brand names Nutrasweet, Equal or Sugar Twin.
  • Acesulfame potassium: 200 times sweeter than table sugar. Acesulfame potassium is suited for cooking and baking and known under brand names Sunnet or Sweet One.
  • Advantame: 20,000 times sweeter than table sugar, suited for cooking and baking.
  • Aspartame-acesulfame salt: 350 times sweeter than table sugar and known under the brand name Twinsweet.
  • Cyclamate: 50 times sweeter than table sugar. Cyclamate is suited for cooking and baking. However, it's been banned in the US since 1970.
  • Neotame: 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar. Neotame is suited for cooking and baking and known under the brand name Newtame.
  • Neohesperidin: 340 times sweeter than table sugar. It is suited for cooking, baking and mixing with acidic foods. It is not approved for use in the US.
  • Saccharin: 700 times sweeter than table sugar. It's known under the brand names Sweet'N Low, Sweet Twin or Necta Sweet.
  • Sucralose: 600 times sweeter table sugar. Sucralose is suited for cooking, baking and mixing with acidic foods. It's known under the brand name Splenda.

Bottom Line: Many different types of artificial sweeteners exist, but not all are approved for use everywhere in the world. The most common include aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, neotame and acesulfame potassium.

This article was reposted from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

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