Artificial sweeteners add flavor to foods and dishes. They are full of flavor and are very sweet. But where do they come from and what do they really do to the body? Are they safe and healthy or do they just taste sweet but aren’t a source of nutrients?
The Sweet Sugar
Almost all of us love to eat sweets. Whether it be candies, cakes, ice cream, or other kinds of dessert. Sugar, however, is said to be one of the leading causes of obesity.
According to Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, the Americans alone can consume an estimate of 165 pounds of sugar per year. That statistics makes the U.S. one of the top sugar consumers in the world.
Sugar has been used for years as a flavoring. It is the main source of the sweet taste we find.
Unfortunately, there were findings of how unhealthy added sugar is. These findings then gave way to the discovery of artificial sweeteners.
What is an Artificial Sweetener?
An artificial sweetener is made to taste like sugar. They were made and developed as an alternative for sugar. Thus, they are also called sugar substitutes.
These sweeteners are said to be healthier alternatives for sugar since they contain less food energy than what sugar-based ones normally have. Compared to sugar-based sweeteners, they contain a few or sometimes no calorie content at all.
As they are called “artificial”, the artificial sweeteners are synthetically made. But they may have ingredients that are from natural sources like herbs or some sugar content. These sweeteners are also described to have sweeter taste compared to regular sugar.
Nowadays, artificial sweeteners are more appreciated compared to regular sugar. It is because of how these sweeteners boast their little to no calorie content, making them a lot healthier. This is also the reason why the people who are on diets consume more of them. Another advantage of using artificial sweeteners is their very sweet taste. When using these sweeteners, even a few dashes is enough to make any food sweet.
What are Artificial Sweeteners Used For?
Since they are artificial, these sweeteners are commonly used for the production of processed foods like:
- Ready-to-drink beverages, either in liquid form or powdered form, contain artificial sweeteners. Examples of ready-to-drink beverages are soft drinks and powdered juice drinks.
- Baked goods like cookies and cakes contain sugar substitutes.
- Most candies contain sugar substitutes.
- Desserts like pudding, jams, and jellies all contain sweeteners.
- Most canned foods also have sugar substitute content in them.
- A lot of dairy products do have artificial sweeteners.
Kinds of Artificial Sweeteners
Each sweetener has its own properties and characteristics. The choice of sweetener to use depends on each of those factors.
In order to be able to choose the best sweetener, here are some of them:
Acesulfame potassium is commonly referred to as acesulfame K or ace K. These sweeteners contain zero calories and are sold under the brand names Sunett and Sweet One.
The ace K is usually found in foods like gelatins, frozen desserts (ice cream), and chewing gums.
Also, ace K has been used as a sweetener since 1988 and still has a clean record for being a sugar substitute.
The agave nectar is cultivated from the agave cactus that is commonly found in the U.S. and in Latin and South America. They are added to foods like cereals, some yogurts, and tea.
This sweetener is frequently compared to honey because of how they are similar in taste and texture. Both agave nectar and honey contain the exact same amount of calories which is 20 counts per teaspoon. However, as they may be seen as kind of similar, they still differ in terms of health benefits; specifically the antioxidants they possess. Honey is healthier and more antioxidant-rich than agave nectar.
Aspartame contains zero calories. It is commonly used as an ingredient for some drinks, gums, yogurts, and even cough drops.
Unfortunately, the aspartame has been linked to negative effects such as weight gain and cancer. But there were no proven threats of the artificial sweetener unless taken in excess.
High-fructose corn syrup
The high-fructose corn syrup is made from processed corn syrup. This sweetener contains both fructose and glucose; and it is commonly used as an additive for sodas, most desserts, and cereals.
High-fructose corn syrup is preferred as an additive for processed foods because it can provide them a longer shelf life, plus it is a cheap alternative for sucrose or table sugar.
Honey is a very common sugar substitute. It is produced by bees and is sold almost everywhere.
The advantage of honey is that it doesn’t just serve as a sweetener for desserts, but it can also be used in cooking meals. Plus, it contains a decent amount of vitamins and minerals.
Neotame contains zero calories and is often added to drinks like fruit juice, dairy products, ice cream, and other frozen desserts. It is also one of the newest sugar substitutes that have been introduced to the market.
Stevia leaf extract
Stevia leaf extract, or sometimes referred to as stevia, is a sugar substitute made from 100% natural sources. It is extracted from the stevia plant and is commonly used by weight conscious people in their diet plans.
The brand names that sell stevia leaf extract are Truvia and Pure Via.
The saccharin sweetener has been tagged as an additive to be avoided because of a study in which the animal test subjects developed bladder cancer after consuming saccharin. However, there weren’t enough proof that the same will occur in humans, that then made the product’s return to the market.
Saccharin is sold in the brand name Sweet’N Low.
Sucralose does not contain calories. It is a common ingredient for fruit drinks, canned fruits, and some syrup.
It is a good alternative to sugar and is helpful as a sura substitute for baked good because of its heat insensitivity property.
There was once a study regarding sucralose that had the result of the sweetener contributing to the weakening of the immune system, but as new studies were conducted, the same result did not once again show.
Artificial Sweeteners: What They Do to Your Health
The good thing about artificial sweeteners is how they have few to zero calorie content that can make a huge impact in someone’s diet. However, even that promising quality may have its downsides.
A few of the people who claimed to have tried the sweeteners said that they experienced one or some of the following: headaches, digestive issues, weight gain, and cravings. Also, there are others that are far worse, this review of the products put them in the hot seat for criticism.
Artificial sweeteners made researchers and critics raise their eyebrows for many years now. Because of the past studies regarding how these sweeteners contribute to the development of cancer on test subjects, they were tagged as dangerous wherein the saccharin sweetener was even avoided and labeled as such.
But after thorough studies and research, the National Cancer Institute spoke about how artificial sweeteners aren’t as dangerous as they are said to be. They also advised that consumption of sugar substitutes will not cause any problem as long as they are taken in moderation.
For now, health professionals do not see artificial sweeteners as a threat. Their recommendation is for us to be wise in consuming these sweeteners and to just use them in moderation to avoid any complications that may occur in the future.