The food industry relies heavily on artificial sweeteners as cheap sugar substitutes. Are they bad for us?
Artificial sweeteners are, to many, a miracle substance, allowing them to have their cake and eat it too. Artificial sweeteners are a sugar substitute used to sweeten food using few kilojoules. They can come in different forms such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose. Artificial sweeteners can be found in a variety of ‘low calorie’ or ‘diet’ foods such as soft drinks, yogurt and baked goods. Artificial sweeteners can be used in tiny amounts compared to sugar because they are a lot sweeter. This is because the sugar receptors in the body detect natural sugar in large quantities. In comparison, artificial sweeteners are able to bind to the receptor in such a way that it causes the same sweet sensation in smaller amounts.
Thus, the ability for artificial sweeteners to produce the same sweet taste in tiny amounts means they contain almost no kilojoules. For example, a 375 mL can of Coke contains a whopping 675 Kilojoules while the equivalent amount of a brand name low kilojoule Cola contains only 4 Kilojoules. Therefore, substituting regular sugar for artificially sweetened alternatives can help individuals lose weight. This is because the lower kilojoule options help to reduce overall energy intake.
Despite this, some studies have suggested that overstimulation of the sugar receptors from consuming high amounts of these intense sweeteners may cause foods containing natural sugar not to taste as sweet. This can cause us to neglect these nutritious foods, such as fruit in favour of artificial alternatives. Although the vitamin and mineral content in artificial sweeteners does not differ significantly from natural sugar, products which contain these substances are usually processed and are therefore not as nutritious as natural products.
Although more research is needed to determine the long term consequences of artificial sweetener consumption, artificial sweeteners are not dangerous in moderation. While research conducted on the health effects of artificial sweeteners show no strong link between consumption and the development of disease, studies have shown over and over again that there is a clear link between the overconsumption of sugar and diet related diseases such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Thus, artificial sweeteners are a safe alternative to sugar loaded products, and may even help to prevent diet related diseases. Despite this, it is always healthier to eat minimally processed, natural produce. In conclusion I will leave you with one final thought: although artificial sweeteners have been around for decades, 63 % of Australians aged over 18 are overweight or obese. Perhaps after all we can’t have our cake and eat it too…
Are artificial sweeteners bad for us? They appear to be a miracle substance, but unfortunately they seem to have some undesirable side-effects.
Alana Willis is passionate about all things health and nutrition. You can usually find her at the beach, with a smoothie in one hand and a good book in the other, soaking up that great Aussie sun. She is currently completing the Bachelor of Science and Master of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Sydney and foresees herself one day running her own dietetics practice. With a major in psychology, Alana is fascinated by the relationship between food and our mental state, and how our psychology can be used to implement healthy eating behaviours.
Alana’s keen interest in health and nutrition is reflected by her writing. With her scientific background, Alana critically analyses everything she hears and reads, ensuring that her writing is current and evidence based. You can see more of her writing featured in the Dietitian Connection Newsletter and the Feel Great Challenge founded by biggest loser host, Hayley Lewis.