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Shannon Koehle: Sugar Vs. Artificial Sweeteners -- Which Is Better?

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“Sweetness is the most important ingredient for life,” reads a Splenda packet.

However, the debate continues on whether artificial sweeteners or natural sugar is best to ingest.

Sugar, or sucrose, is a natural product separated from beet or cane plants. This product is 99.95% pure sucrose, says the Sugar Association.

Dedicated to promoting sugar consumption paired with a healthy diet, the Sugar Association adds, “The American Diabetes Association advises diabetics that sugar may be included in their diets provided it’s counted as part of their daily carbohydrate allowance.”

Counted as a carb, sugar is also 15 calories per teaspoon, while manmade sweeteners are deemed “free foods.”

“Free foods” are those not counted as carbohydrates, fats, or any other exchange, says the Mayo Clinic. Additionally, “free foods” will not affect an individual’s blood sugar.

Today, there are four artificial sweeteners the Federal Drug Administration and American Diabetes Association has approved. These include aspartame (brand name: Equal, NutraSweet), saccharin (brand name: Sweet ‘N Low, Sugar Twin), acesulfame potassium (brand name: Sunnett, Sweet One), and sucralose (brand name: Splenda).

Approved by the FDA as an all purpose sugar in 1999, sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar. This is not a natural product, but “made from a process that starts with sugar,” says Splenda.com.

Additionally, the American Academy of Family Physicians says, “It is okay to use artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose while you are pregnant.”

Aspartame, approved as an all purpose sugar in 1996, while acesulfame potassium was approved in 2002, are 200 times sweeter than sugar. “However, people with a rare condition called phenylketonuria (PKU) should limit their intake of aspartame,” says the American Diabetes Association.

Finally, saccharin, approved for a second time in 2000, is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar.

While saccharin has been around for more than a century, in 1981 this ingredient was added to a list of substances “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” says the National Cancer Institute.

Studies conducted in the 1970s suggested saccharin may be the cause of bladder cancer in laboratory animals and therefore may cause such results in humans.

However, further evidence has reversed these original assumptions.

As the National Cancer Institute says, “Results from subsequent carcinogenic studies (studies that examine whether a substance can cause cancer) on these sweeteners and other approved sweeteners have not provided clear evidence of an association between artificial sweeteners and cancer in people.”

The FDA concurs with the findings of the NCI.

As they say, “Before approving these sweeteners the FDA reviewed more than 100 safety studies that were conducted on each sweetener, included studies to assess cancer risk.”

Another factor to consider when choosing sugar or a sweetener is caloric intake. Additional calories from sugar can cause unintentional weight gain, says the Mayo Clinic.

Similarly, the FDA says, “Artificial sweeteners can help consumers cut down on calories and control weight, help to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, and potentially prevent cavities, according to the ADA.”

Ultimately, how to increase the sweet is an individual decision.


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