‘Sugar-free'- a lovely little trick that the big companies use to make us believe their products are actually good for us. We take a quick glance at the label and to our disbelief there is no sugar in the product! What the common person may not know is that the artificial sweeteners used in those products can actually be more harmful than sugar itself. Being artificially produced or modified means that by law these sweeteners are not recognised as sugar. Some may be more dangerous than others, so how do we know which is the best product to take? There are dozens of sweeteners out there so here is the low down on the most common forms found.
Sucralose is made from chlorinated sugar and is therefore approximately 600 times sweeter than natural sugar. By removing 3 hydrogen atoms and replacing them with 3 chlorine atoms, sucralose is modified so that the body cannot digest the new molecular formula.
When ingested, the majority of sucralose is excreted from the body; thus its calorie-free, carb-free claims can technically be substantiated. It is important to note that the body will be able to break down a small percentage of this formula with the average being around 15%.
Extensive research has deemed sucralose safe for human consumption as it does not pose any significant health risks. Sucralose however, has only been approved for consumption in Australia since 1993 therefore long term side effects are yet to be exposed.
The ingredients in sucralose are not affected by heat, thus making it the best artificial sweeter to use in baking.
Aspartame is made from the two amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine and is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar. Aspartame is one of the most controversial products on the market. Its safety has been continually debated since its introduction in the 1980s; however, extensive studies have deemed it safe for human consumption. Aspartame is one of the most comprehensively tested food additives in the world and has been approved for consumption by over 100 countries.
The recommended daily limit of aspartame is 50mg/kg of body weight. A can of diet soft drink contains roughly 180mg of aspartame. Therefore a person weighing 75kg would need to consume 21 cans of soft drink daily to go over this limit. At this small level, aspartame does not pose any significant health risks. Despite being said to cause cancer and other illnesses, there have been no conclusive studies to prove that aspartame is harmful to humans. The ingredients in aspartame are easily broken down when heated therefore it should not be used for baking.
Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K) is made from a blend of acetoacetic acid and potassium, and is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar. It has a slightly bitter aftertaste and is therefore primarily used as a blend with other forms of artificial sweetener to create a more natural sugar taste.
Although Ace-K has been deemed safe for human consumption, it lacks testing. Ace-K has been linked to cancer and other serious health problems however this lack in research means a conclusive result cannot be determined. One study conducted on mice revealed that long term use of Ace-K could lead to impaired cognitive function.
Ace-K is a stable substance under heat therefore is safe to use in baking or in products that require a long shelf life.
As artificial sweeteners are not naturally-occurring products, the human body is not made to ingest them. This can make it difficult to determine if a specific sweetener is harmful or not.
Each and every product that makes it to the supermarket shelf must be tested thoroughly enough to ensure it does not cause serious health issues in the consumer. Sucralose, aspartame and acesulfame potassium have all been independently tested and have been deemed safe for human consumption. There are few or no immediate side effects experienced with these products in most people. These products however, have not been around long enough to determine the full extent of their impact on humans in the long term.
Despite this, artificial sweeteners are a great invention to reduce calories and help battle health issues such as obesity which sugar has been proven to cause. As obesity and diabetes are becoming more prevalent issues in current times, the need for sugar substitutes is imperative. In safe doses, artificial sweeteners are a much better option than natural sugar for the health conscious and aid in the prevention and reduction of these detrimental illnesses.
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