The Artificial Sweeteners Controversy
There's some controversy surrounding the use of artificial sweeteners as a food additive. You may have heard concerns that they contribute to birth defects and cancer, or could be linked to behavioral problems. There's no research that indicates that this is true. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates the use of artificial sweeteners and to date has not been presented with scientific information that would suggest that they're unsafe. Some people report that artificial sweeteners cause them problems (e.g., headaches, stomach upset) and are not able to use them in place of sugar in foods.
Although stevia is often grouped with the other sugar substitutes, it deserves its own brief discussion. Stevia is a naturally occurring species of herb in the sunflower family, commonly used as a sweetener. Many people with low-carbohydrate dietary needs, like diabetics, have turned to this herb because it's many times sweeter than sugar and does not greatly affect blood glucose levels. Like other artificial sweeteners, stevia is an alternative way to add sweetness to foods that provides no nutrient value.
Government Regulation of Artificial Sweeteners
Before the government approves the use of any sweetener, it carefully scrutinizes:
- How it's made
- Which foods it will be used in
- How much the average person will eat each day
- Whether or not it's potentially harmful to a person's health
It's the position of the American Dietetic Association that consumers can safely enjoy a range of artificial sweeteners, when consumed in a diet that's guided by current federal nutrition recommendations such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.
It then sets a limit for the amount that a person can safely consume based on his/her body weight. That limit is usually several times more than the average person will ever eat. Studies looking at intake levels of artificial sweeteners show intake well below acceptable levels. Only small amounts of artificial sweeteners are needed to equal the sweetness provided by sugar.
Names for added sugars on food labels include:
- brown sugar
- corn sugar
- corn sweetener
- corn syrup
- fruit juice concentrates
- corn syrup
- invert sugar
- malt syrup
- maple syrup
- raw sugar
- evaporated cane juice