Recent studies have proven that far from being a mere contributor to the obesity epidemic, sugar is also one of the main culprits for heart disease. In 1700, the average American consumed just four pounds of sugar. Fast forward to 2009, and over 50 percent of the population consumed half a pound of sugar daily, which totals to over 180 pounds of sugar a year.
Much of the problem is derived from High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), contained in many hidden ingredients on the supermarket shelf, including so-called ‘health bars’, cereals, crackers, and prepared sauces. Fructose increases uric acid levels, which raises blood pressure and potentially harm the kidneys. It also causes chronic inflammation, deregulates the body’s appetite-control system, promotes obesity, and raises ‘bad cholesterol’ levels and is toxic to the liver.
There is no doubt that fructose and other refined sugars are not aligned with good health. The question remains: can we trust artificial sweeteners?
Artificial Sweeteners and weight loss/gain
The question of whether or not artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose can be beneficial when taken as part of a weight loss regimen is divided. On the one hand, short-term studies indicate that these products can help reduce the amount of calories consumed. On the other hand, other research suggests that diet drinks and products can actually increase our desire for sweet foods.
In one study carried out by researchers at the University of Texas, it was found that the more diet beverages a person drank, the more likely they were to be obese or overweight. The debate is far from closed: a 2014 meta analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that low-cal sweeteners reduced body mass index, fat mass, and waist circumference.
Artificial sweeteners and children
Although many low-calorie sweeteners are approved in the U.S. (including aspartame, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium), The Institute of Medicine warns that the consumption of too many artificially sweetened foods can stop consumers from consuming nutritionally dense foods. Moreover, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee stated that “…added sugars should be reduced in the diet and with healthy options, such as water in place of sugar-sweetened beverages.”
Artificial sweeteners and health concerns
Although commonly used low-cal sweeteners are approved in the U.S., they have been linked to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome. The latter is a cluster of factors that increase the chances of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. These factors include high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, a large waist circumference, and high blood sugar levels.
In so far as cancer is concerned, most studies do not show a link between artificial sweeteners and cancer. One study carried out by researchers at Harvard University Medical School did report a higher risk of non-Hodgkin lymphomas in men who drank diet beverages, but the risk was similar for those who consumed beverages sweetened with added sugar.
Some people find they are sensitive to artificial sweeteners, suffering from issues such as headaches and migraines when consuming products with aspartame, acesulfame, or neotame. In general, although institutions like the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee state that artificial sweeteners are safe to use, they do not recommend replacing added sugars with low calorie sweeteners, meaning that it is probably best to keep artificial sweeteners to a minimum and consider more suitable alternatives.