Question

Artificial Sweeteners

What are some pros and cons of using non-sugar sweeteners?

A Answers (2)

  • AMehmet Oz, MD, Cardiology, answered
    While some non-sugar sweeteners have zero or very few calories, there is a downside: Sweeteners found in diet soft drinks, diet foods, and on restaurant tables next to the sugar packets go unrecognized by the brain. They're essentially invisible to your brain's satiety centers, so it doesn't count them as real food and still desires to be fulfilled by calories somewhere else.

    There's no clear-cut proof on the effects of these sweeteners -- both on a health level and a weight-loss level -- but we do know one thing: Prehistoric man wasn't putting a sugar alternative in his water. Artificial sweeteners, while lacking the calories, may have side effects like intestinal problems and headaches. If you're having a hard time losing weight or don't feel well, these are some of the first things to cut out, even though they can be an alternative to high-calorie sugars.
  • AMichael Roizen, MD, Internal Medicine, answered
    There's no clear-cut data on which alternative sweeteners work most effectively, but here's how I rate them:
    • Sucralose (Splenda): Discovered in 1976 but not introduced for widespread use for many years. More than 500 times sweeter than sucrose, stored in body fats, suitable for baking and does not affect levels of blood sugar. The research is least complete on this one, but go ahead and keep it in the cupboard. It's too new to know any of the long-term effects, but it appears the most promising -- and it's the best one to use for cooking.
    • Aspartame (Nutra-Sweet): Entered the market in 1981. Several studies have shown that it has adverse health effects, but those studies were very limited. It's come under a lot of scrutiny and has basically stood the test of time. But it's the sweetener that hangs around the longest in your body, and it cannot be heated -- it turns into formaldehyde (which could help you save on funeral expenses). It's also rumored to limit the brain's ability to use certain vitamins, antioxidants, and magnesium.
    • Saccharin: Has been around since the early 1900s, and while some studies showed health risks, those studies have significant limitations. It appears to be one of the safest sweeteners, and the only one with real long-term data, even if some of it is not positive (if you consume more than 80 12-ounce diet sodas a day, you're at an increased risk of bladder cancer -- good luck!)
    • Agave nectar: It's a hyper-sweet natural substance. Try it. While it's very high calorie, you only need a fraction of the amount of sugar to gain the same level of sweetness.
    • Stevia: A non-caloric, natural herb. Taste isn't ideal, and seems to lower sperm counts in some studies. For the taste and the potential side effects, no thanks. No diet drink is worth sterility.
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