Are Low-Cal Sweeteners Helpful or Harmful?

Although the jury is still out on whether or not sugar is actually addictive, many people feel that they have strong cravings for sugary foods, similar to those encountered by people recovering from alcohol and substance abuse.

The American diet is undoubtedly too rich in ‘added sugars’ – i.e. sugars and syrups added to processed foods and drinks like soda, energy drinks and sports drinks. The recently released Scientific Report of the 20145 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, scheduled for imminent publication, advices us to curtail added sugars to no more than 10 per cent of our total calorie intake.

The researchers note: “Strong and consistent evidence shows that intake of added sugars from food and/or sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with excess body weight in children and adults.”

Several new studies suggest that low-calorie sweeteners are not the culprits they were painted out to be, since when consumed at reasonable levels, they may be helpful for weight control, yet the above-mentioned report does not go so far as to recommend them as replacements for sugary beverages. So what should we make of current evidence?

Safety Conclusions

One of the most popular low-cal sweeteners, aspartame, was recently reviewed by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), who coincided with the members of the European Food Safety Authority Panel on Food Additives. The latter found that aspartame intake should be below 40mg per kilogram of body weight per day, equivalent to a 132-pound adult consuming at least 12 cans of diet soda for the rest of his/her life.

More recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its ‘Position Statement on Snacks, Sweetened Beverages, Added Sugars and Schools,’ stating that low calorie sweeteners “have shown good safety over time.”

The DGAC and the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety gave safety endorsements for low cal sweeteners yet were reticent to recommend that they replace added sugars, expressing concern about a recent study suggesting a link between aspartame and the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma in men (association is not causation, however, and further research on the matter is required).

Recent studies also suggest that low calorie sweeteners do not cause weight gain and cravings for sweet foods though as of yet, we still require more evidence to accept low calorie sweeteners as part of a strategy for long-term weight loss and maintenance.

For further information: Are Low Calorie Sweeteners Helpful or Harmful?

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