Artificial Sweetners-Do We Get More Than We Bargained For?

In the U.S., there are now 6 approved synthetic sugar substitutes available to stand in for table sugar (sucrose). Let’s name our candidates for today’s grid session:

sweet n lowpackets

1. Sweet N’ Low-saccharin

Discovered in 1879, by two scientists looking for a coal-tar derivative, which are carcinogenic. They are used for dyes, to seal driveways, kill head lice  and treatment of dandruff/psoriasis. One of the gentlemen tasted the powder that got on his arm. It was sweet. Saccharin was approved as Sweet N’ Low in ’58. It was shown to cause bladder cancer in rats. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in ’72 took saccharin off its GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) list banning it in the U.S. Manufacturers using saccharin in their products then sued the FDA. It then took an additional 5 years to finally ban this chemical. Unfortunately, within two weeks of the ban, public and political outcry kept saccharin available and it has remained on the market. The reason manufacturers love saccharin is because of its stability and low-cost. A study in 2008 in the journal Appetite, shows increased insulin production, thereby leading to weight gain with saccharin. The sweetener is made from toluene, a cleaning solvent which is a petroleum derivative. Other studies have shown different types of cancers in both rats and mice. Canada has banned this chemical over 3 decades ago. There are safer artificial sweeteners available.


2. Equal, NutraSweet-aspartame

Aspartame was discovered by accident in ’65 by a chemist. He was working on an ulcer drug for a pharmaceutical company. He accidentally spilled two amino acids (building blocks of proteins) on the lab desk and decided to give it a taste. Why the chemist would do this, I don’t have a clue. The substance was sweet.  Eventually this sweetener would bring in billions of dollars for his employer, Searle & Company. It was approved by the FDA for use in ’74, but not for baking or cooking purposes. With extended heat or time the substance breaks down, changing its taste. You will notice this in soda that contains aspartame. If cold soda warms, its taste becomes bitter. Long term animal studies from Italy, showed different types of cancers from aspartame. If you have phenylketonuria you must not use this sweetener. Phenylalanine is not broken down by the body in individuals with this disease. This can led to seizures and mental dysfunction.  Avoid this sweetener. They are alternatives with lesser risks.


3. Acesulfame potassium- Sweet One

Discovered again by accident, by another scientist, at different drug company. These researchers really like licking their fingers. Wonder if they carry any of these guys out in body bags? They seem to turn their lab benches into a chemical cafeterias. The year of discovery was ’67. It was approved for use by the FDA in ’88. Acesulfame’s claim to fame is that it is heat-stable. It can be used in cooking and baking with no change in taste. When used for pop (soft drinks) it’s usually combined with other artificial sweeteners to mask a bitter aftertaste. Methylene chloride is a carcinogenic chemical used in the production of acesulfame. There is possible contamination of methylene chloride in the final product sweetener. This chemical may have carcinogenic properties but not proven by studies. In some research with rats, the sweetener triggers insulin secretion, not a good thing for diabetics. Other research showed no insulin secretion. Look for something safer.


4. neotame-“New” NutraSweet

It was approved by the FDA in 2002. Interesting story because the chemical was owned by Monsanto that used to own Searle Pharmaceutical company. This company originally put out aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet). What they did is modify the structure of Equal. Aspartame is 2 amino acids (aspartic acid and phenylalanine) hooked together with another chemical. Monsanto added yet another chemical group and patented it as “New” NutraSweet. It acts not only as a sweetener, but also as a flavor enhancer (like MSG). The new patent on this slightly altered sweetener, gives the manufacturer the right to be the only “New” NutraSweet producer in town. No one can market this product until the patent life expires. The claim to fame over its father, Equal, is that it’s heat stable and can be used in cooked or baked products. It also can be used for individuals having the disease, phenylketonuria, with no problems. Neotame is considered safer than the 3 previous sweeteners (saccharine, aspartame and acesulfame)


5. stevia-Truvia

Stevia, is a naturally derived chemical, unlike the previous artificial sweeteners. It was rejected by the FDA in the 1990’s, because of fertility problems in female hamsters and increased cell proliferation in rat’s testicles. Increased cell proliferation is seen with certain cancers. In 2008, two corporations got together and developed stevia extracts with 95% pure stevia component. They petitioned the FDA for inclusion on the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) list. GRAS list items are looked at with less surveillance than FDA approved sweeteners. In 2008, the FDA agreed it could become a GRAS item. Even though at least 2 years of animal study in mice was not done, Truvia was approved.  I would caution against using this sweetener, because its safety has not been proven. Just because something is a naturally derived from a plant doesn’t prove that it’s not harmful.


6. Splenda-sucralose

Sucralose was approved by the FDA in ’98. It had been previously used throughout the world as a sweetening agent.  Splenda can be used in baked or cooked items. It’s made by taking sucrose (table sugar) and reacting it with chlorine. The chlorine hugs so tight with the altered sucrose molecule that the body cannot break it down for calories. Just because sucralose is synthetically altered doesn’t mean that it’s unsafe. CSPI (Center For Science in the Public Interest) which is not funded by corporate/government and is unbiased source of nutritional information considers sucralose the safest of all the sugar substitutes. I think it has the least risks of the six we covered today.



Aspartame Is The Main Sweet In This Pie

Let me know what you have been using?

Thank you.


Categories: Health

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