Artificial sweeteners were made for people who cannot eat sugar or who want to cut down on calories from sugary foods. After many years of use, artificial sweeteners are still controversial. Some people think that they are good because they do not cause cavities and may help them lose weight. Other people think that using artificial sweeteners can cause cancer and other diseases.
There are two types of artificial sweeteners that are used instead of sugars in foods. They are noncaloric sweeteners and sugar alcohols. Noncaloric sweeteners do not add calories to foods. They are used in many kinds of foods such as snack foods and drinks. The names of some noncaloric sweeteners are saccharine and aspartame. These sweeteners do not cause as much tooth decay as sugar.
Sugar alcohols contain about the same number of calories as sugar. They are used in chewing gums and hard candies. Like other artificial sweeteners, they may cause fewer dental cavities than sugars. In fact chewing sugarless gum after meals may help prevent cavities. Because they have the same calories as sugar, sugar alcohols do not help people who are trying to lose weight. For some people they cause diarrhea. Examples of sugar alcohols are sorbitol and mannitol.
All artificial sweeteners have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA made this decision after looking at tests which show that "normal use" of artificial sweeteners would not cause health problems. Some people are still worried that there may be health risks for individuals, especially children, who consume more than the level the FDA defines as "normal use." Also, these tests did not show how safe artificial sweeteners would be when consumed over a lifetime.
Many people use artificial sweeteners because they think they are cutting calories and will lose weight. Often, these people will eat artificially sweetened foods or drinks and then eat even more of other foods. They may even end up gaining weight!
While there is no harm having artificial sweeteners some of the time, it is probably wise to limit your use of foods with artificial sweeteners. Most foods especially ripe fruits are just as sweet without added sugars. Other foods taste fine when you make them with less sugar.
Sources: "Use Sugar Only in Moderation." Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Home and Garden Bulletin 253-6. Human Nutrition Information Service, United States Department of Agriculture, July 1993.
Hamilton, E., Whitney E., and Sizer, F. Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies. (New York: West Publishing Company, 1991.) Gacoin, L.T., "Nutrition for Young Children", Connecticut Cooperative Extension.
To find out more about reducing the sugar in your diet, read the files: "How to Cut Down on Sugar" and "Recipe Substitutions."
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