If you’ve investigated natural and artificial sweeteners lately you know that there’s more than a little controversy surrounding the half-dozen or so natural and artificial sugar substitutes in widespread use in the U.S. Ever wonder how much of the controversy is just plain old propaganda? The truth is, all sugar substitutes, natural and artificial, have potential risks associated with them.
More than 200 studies have looked at aspartame in the past three decades and this makes aspartame the most tested food product in the history of the Food and Drug Administration. Organizations from the World Health Organization to the American Dietetic Association call aspartame safe. But this hasn’t been enough to convince everyone. Dr. Andrew Weil calls aspartame, “dangerous,” and urges his readers to avoid it.
In 1957, Sweet’N Low received Federal Trademark No. 1,000,000 and today, saccharin remains the oldest artificial sweetener still sold in the U.S. Like aspartame, saccharin has been the subject of many, many scientific studies and the majority of these studies have deemed saccharin safe. But a 1980 animal study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found, in the words of the study’s authors, “. . . saccharin enhances the induction of early-stage bladder lesions and that the biologic response demonstrates a dose-response effect.”
Made from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, stevioside, which is usually referred to as stevia, is a natural sweetener in use around the world. But even this natural sweetener–with its centuries of use as a food crop–isn’t without controversy. Though stevia is sometimes recommended to diabetics, stevia has been linked to reproductive problems and other health issues. And a 2007 Brazilian study on animals linked stevia to lesions of the brain, liver and spleen.
Xylitol & Other Sugar Alcohols
Hailed as a near-miracle by some, xylitol and other sugar alcohols are touted as a natural remedy for diabetes, dental caries and even inner ear infections. While the science supporting xylitol’s usefulness for many purposes is shaky, at best, one thing is clear. Xylitol isn’t safe for everyone. Xylitol and other sugar alcohols are only partially absorbed by the body; if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome or other digestive disorders, xylitol may not be appropriate for you. Additionally, contrary to some reports, xylitol can raise blood sugar levels in diabetics.
What All This Means
Before dismissing any sugar substitute as unhealthy or unsafe, remember that most studies on natural and artificial sweeteners have been done on animals–not humans–and most involve volumes of sweeteners that far exceed what any person could consume under ordinary circumstances.
If you have any questions about the safety of any natural or artificial sugar substitute, talk to your doctor. He or she can help you sort through the mountain of myths and misconceptions to find the information that’s right for you.
Weil, A. (2007). 7 Substitutes for Sugar
Sweet’NLow.com. (2007). Retrieved June 10, 2007 from http://www.sweetnlow.com/about.html
Nakanishi, K., et al. (1980). Dose response of saccharin in induction of urinary bladder hyperplasias in Fischer 344 rats pretreated with N-butyl-N-(4-hydroxybutyl)nitrosamine.
Nunes, A., et al. (2007). Analysis of genotoxic potentiality of stevioside by comet assay.
Hautalahti, O., et al. (2007). Failure of xylitol given three times a day for preventing acute otitis media.