Sweeteners,
are they really that bad for us?

There is a lot of controversy over the use of sweeteners and many people have an opinion over what they think about them. Below is a small summary of some of the recent evidence.

Artificial sweeteners are low-calorie or calorie-free chemical substances that are used instead of sugar to sweeten food and drinks. They are found in many products such as ‘diet’ and sugar-free drinks, desserts, cakes, chewing gum and toothpaste amongst other things.

All sweeteners in the EU undergo a rigorous safety assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) before they can be used in food and drink. As part of the safety and approval process, EFSA sets an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for each artificial sweetener. The ADI is an estimate of the amount of artificial sweetener (mg/kg of body weight) that can be safely consumed on a daily basis over a person’s lifetime without causing health risks. From a safety perspective, the ADI includes a 100-fold safety factor (i.e. calculated at one-hundredth of the amount that may be safely consumed). For example, the current ADI for Aspartame is 40mg/kg body weight/day. This is the equivalent to 2800mg for a 70kg adult. An average can of Diet Coke contains 180mg of Aspartame. Therefore, an adult would have to consume 15 cans (or 5.1 litres) of Diet Coke on a daily basis, over a lifetime before reaching the ADI!

Both Cancer Research UK and the US National Cancer Institute have stated sweeteners don’t cause cancer. “Large studies looking at people have now provided strong evidence that artificial sweeteners are safe for humans,” states Cancer Research UK.

Early studies revealing a link with saccharin to bladder cancer was performed in animal studies (rats). Over 30 human studies since then have demonstrated that the results in rats were not relevant to humans and that it is safe for human consumption.

It has been suggested and reported in the media that the use of artificial sweeteners may have a stimulating effect on appetite and, therefore, may play a role in weight gain and obesity. However, research into sweeteners and appetite stimulation is inconsistent. Moreover, there is little evidence from longer-term studies to show that sweeteners lead to increased energy intake and contribute to the risk of obesity.

Overall, it should be a personal choice whether to use sweeteners or not. From the current and most up-to-date evidence, it appears they can safely be included as part of a healthy balanced diet.

For further information please contact our dietitian Laura Court.

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