US Myprotein Writer
One of the greatest debates in nutrition is whether or not artificial sweeteners are something that is safe and beneficial to add to your diet. It has been studied for decades and in the previous years, most have concluded that artificial sweeteners are something that we should avoid consuming.
Some have even mentioned that artificial sweeteners are deadly! Could the assumption that artificial sweeteners are bad be a flawed conclusion for researchers to make? Which source is better for satisfying your sweet tooth – artificial sweeteners or sugar?
To bring this topic to closure, let’s observe different types of popular artificial sweeteners on the market today to see if we can draw some better conclusions.
Artificial Sweeteners List
We’re going to take a look at each of the following in turn to see if they are better than sugar.
Of all the artificial sweeteners, aspartame gets the most hate. There’s a lot of controversy surrounding aspartame, but current research shows that it might not be as bad as many of us are led to believe.
Aspartame, itself, is made from the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and is quite a bit sweeter than just normal sucrose (table sugar). What has been shown in studies, is that aspartame can actually produce a gas called methanol. Why is this bad?
Methanol can be converted into another substance called formaldehyde and formaldehyde is not meant for human consumption whatsoever. The good thing is that research is also showing why this isn’t something for you to worry about. Data shows that in order for aspartame to become toxic, someone would have to consume an equal amount of aspartame found in 36 liters of diet soda in a single sitting (1)! That is simply impossible to do!
So why has aspartame been shown to shown to be so bad for our health?
The reason is because most of the previous studies on aspartame have been studies observing results in rats. The rats in these studies were given doses that were equivalent to the human consumption of the 36 liter amount of diet soda that I mentioned previously. So if you’re worried about drinking a diet soda or any product that has aspartame in the ingredient list, don’t be. Aspartame is plenty safe for human consumption simply because we can’t consume enough in a day for it to be bad for us.
Sucralose is becoming one of the most common artificial sweeteners on the market. You might be able to guess from its name, sucralose is similar to sucrose, your normal table sugar. What makes sucralose different, is that three hydroxyl groups have been taken away from sucrose’s normal molecular structure and replaced with three chlorine atoms. As a result, the new molecule is resistant to digestion.
Does the new molecular structure of sucralose pose any possible health problems? Researchers have found that sucralose is highly safe. It is not absorbed in the blood and, like aspartame, needs to be consumed in absurd amounts that are not humanly possible to have any negative effects on health.
One possible drawback of consuming sucralose, is that it has the potential to increase insulin and blood glucose. Even at that, it’s an extremely small increase in insulin when compared to normal sugar. This has only been seen in obese individuals.
If you are currently at a healthy body fat, this is something that you shouldn’t worry about. If you’re an obese individual, searching for another artificial sweetener might be something for you to consider.
Unlike most low calorie sweeteners, stevia is actually not a sweetener that comes from an artificial source. It actually comes from a plant called stevia rebaudiana. Certain parts of the plant are extracted and used as a sweetener. The sweetness of stevia is about 300 times the sweetness of normal sugar.
The taste of stevia is a little different than other sweeteners, especially regular sugar. It can be overwhelming if too much is added to a particular recipe or product. In research, stevia has not only been shown to be a great low calorie sweetener option, but it has the ability to improve insulin sensitivity. It helps to do this by helping to regulate blood glucose better.
It’s hypothesized that stevia has the ability to improve insulin sensitivity due to possible interactions with particular cells on the pancreas that secrete insulin.
Is stevia a safe sweetener to use? Yes, studies show that if kept in doses between 4 to 8 mg/kg of bodyweight, stevia is very safe. It is extremely difficult to surpass that range of consumption.
Why Have Researchers Previously Said To Avoid Artificial Sweeteners?
In the past, conclusions made from research on artificial sweeteners have included titles like “will kill you” or “causes cancer”. Where were they getting the linked information for these kind of accusations?
The problem with the conclusions that previous researchers have made were construed and not a result of causation. Causation versus correlation can make a huge difference on how data presented is interpreted. What’s the difference between causation and correlation?
To understand, let’s look at an example of correlation. Last summer, Johnny opened a lemonade stand on the beaches of Tampa, Florida. As his customers increased, the number of shark attacks on the beaches of Tampa also increased. Now, Johnny’s sales in lemonade correlate with shark attacks, but his sales in lemonade do not prove causation by any means!
To relate causation versus correlation to conclusions made from studies on artificial sweeteners, we need to realize the different variables that could make data not as reliable as it should be. For example, most people that consume artificial sweeteners are people that are uninformed people trying to lose weight by changing one aspect of their diet while still having a very high calorie diet.
That’s just one example of a variable that could drastically change results, but there are numerous possible variables to consider such as fiber intake, the activity levels of someone’s lifestyle, genetics, and family history.
Is Normal Sugar Better For Me?
The answer to this question is actually it depends! In the past, sugar has also received a bad reputation, but, like artificial sweeteners, there might be more to sugar than most realize. Sugar, in today’s society, refers to table sugar or sucrose.
Sugar is a carbohydrate that is ranked reasonably high on the glycemic index due to it being digested quickly. Should the glycemic index of the sugar be something that you should really worry about? The answer might surprise you.
If we look at the components of a single meal, we can get a better understanding of what happens to our blood glucose levels and insulin response when we consume an entire meal. When we eat a meal that contains a higher amount of sugar, in most circumstances, we are consuming protein, fat, and usually some fiber. These are all nutrients that are slower digesting and help to reduce the glycemic index of meal significantly.
So, if you’re consuming an entire meal and there are some foods that contain a good amount of sugar, your insulin response and blood glucose levels will be something you don’t need to be worrying about. However, if an individual is obese or in an insulin resistant state, that individual should pay attention to their sugar intake. A negative of sugar, is that sugar is not very filling and is an easy way to consume way too many calories. If you’re trying to gain weight or possibly put on some mass, having a little sugar isn’t bad. If you’re trying to lose weight, sugar is definitely not going to make it easy.
With that being said, if you’re able to restrict your calories while still incorporating a little sugar in your diet, multiple studies have shown that when calories are equal, the amount of sugar you’re consuming has little effect on your overall weight loss and even health parameters like triglycerides, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
Take Home Message
Whatever source of sweetener you decide to choose can all depend! As a rule of thumb, artificial sweeteners should not be something to shun and avoid. They can be immensely helpful in having someone stick to a lower calorie diet while satisfying that unrelenting sweet tooth without adding a bunch of empty calories from sugar.
Then again, depending on your goals, current health status, or life circumstances, sugar might be just fine to be in your diet. Know what you’re putting in your body and you will be a step ahead of the rest.