As summertime nears, many San Diegans are looking for productive and healthy ways to attain the ideal beach body. Some may begin by doing crunches every night after sweating off unwanted water weight on the StairMaster, while others may decide to change eating habits and cut calories. Both methods are efficient, especially when done simultaneously. However, when it comes to the latter, it’s important to take precautions when consuming “diet-friendly” alternative foods such as artificial sweeteners.
According to the American Dietetic Association, nine out of 10 Americans regularly use sugar substitutes. To some, this may come as a shock when considering one-third of Americans are obese, with body mass indexes greater than 30. However, there’s an argument to be made about whether artificial sweeteners are as healthy as they are thought to be.
The discovery of sugar substitutes was nothing more than an accident when, approximately 130 years ago, two chemists from Johns Hopkins University discovered saccharin while experimenting with a coal-tar derivative.
The chemical components of saccharin may not be as sweet as they taste. Still used in Sweet’N Low and sugar, it contains anthranilic acid, nitrous acid, sulfur dioxide and chlorine fused with ammonia.
Other common artificial sweeteners are aspartame, sucralose and stevia. Aspartame, the most common ingredient in sugar-free drinks, is made with aspartic acid, methanol and phenylalanine. Sucralose, which is sugar chemically modified by the addition of chlorine, is present in Splenda and is commonly used by bakers and manufacturers. The most recently approved sweetener, Stevia, extracts glycosides from the leaves of stevia plants. It is found in Truvia, Pure Via and SweetLeaf.
The healthiness of many artificial sweeteners is often cause for debate because of the incorporation of known carcinogenic ingredients such as saccharin and cyclamate. In 1969, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned cyclamate when it was found to increase the risk of bladder cancer among laboratory rats. However, after reexamination, cyclamate was found to be less harmful than previously thought.
According to the National Cancer Institute, “Scientists concluded that cyclamate was not a carcinogen or a co-carcinogen (a substance that enhances the effect of a cancer-causing substance). A food additive petition was filed with the FDA for the reapproval of cyclamate … The FDA’s concerns about cyclamate are not cancer-related.”
However, this revelation in favor of artificial sweeteners can be taken with a grain of salt as many have the misconception substituting high-sugar beverages with artificially sweetened counterparts is an excusable alternative. While doctors recommend using artificial sweeteners when trying to maintain a stable weight, it is important to remember these sugar substitutes are made of manufactured chemical compounds, which makes them synthetic.
“They have been approved by the FDA as safe to consume, but we still need to keep in mind that by adding artificial sweeteners to our food and drink, we are still eating something that has no nutritional value and does not function like food in our systems,” CEO of Skinny Chef Culinary Ventures and healthy cooking expert Jennifer Iserloh wrote in her blog.
Sweeteners should be used sparingly as research shows they may give birth to a stronger sweet tooth.
“They might be saving on part of their calorie intake only to trigger a stronger need in the body for the real thing. Many will end up making up the calories with other items like salty snacks or even high fat treats that they wouldn’t normally eat,” Iserloh wrote.
Limiting the consumption of high-sugar foods and occasionally substituting a Splenda or Sweet’N Low packet to achieve a balanced diet is the recommended route.
Though sugar intake is inevitable, health-conscious sugar fiends must remember to satisfy their sweet teeth wisely.