Artificial sweeteners are low- or no-caloric sugar substitutes that provide little nutritional value, but then modify the flavor of foods or beverages so that they become more appealing to the consumer. Brand names in this category include Splenda, NutraSweet, and Sweet’ N Low. The most common products in this category are sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, neotame, and acesulfame potassium.
Sucralose currently holds the status as the most common sugar substitute used in the world today for foods and beverages, holding 30% of the global artificial sweetener market. Estimates project the value of this product to be about $3 billion by the year 2022.
Although sugar of lead was used in the Medieval era as a sweetener before its toxic effects were known, the first modern artificial sweetener was saccharin. It was first synthesized in 1879, creating during an experiment with toluene derivatives. Saccharin does cause cancer in high doses in rats, but this occurs through a mechanism that is not present in humans. In 2001, the United States repealed a warning label requirement for it.
If you are looking for a way to cut back on your sugar intake, then these are the advantages and disadvantages of artificial sweeteners to consider.
List of the Advantages of Artificial Sweeteners
1. Artificial sweeteners may be derived from natural substances.
Although an artificial sweetener is a synthetic sugar substitute, it can be made from naturally occurring substances from the environment around us. Herbs and even the sugar plants themselves can become the foundation of these items. Since they tend to be much sweeter than an actual sugar product, they are an attractive alternative for those who need to watch their intake levels thanks to a diabetes diagnosis, weight concerns, or other medical needs. That’s because almost every artificial sweetener adds virtually no calories to your diet.
2. You can use artificial sweeteners in almost anything.
Artificial sweeteners are found in many processed foods because they react in a similar manner as sugar does during the baking, canning, or packaging process. You will find them in candies, baked goods, canned foods, jams, jellies, and several dairy products. They are commonly found in sweet carbonated drinks, drink mixes, and other beverages as well. Some products that contain these sweeteners might be listed as a “diet” product, but that is not a free license to over-consume.
Even though artificial sweeteners have a minimal caloric presence, they can cause an imbalance of alcohols through digestion that can make your stomach hurt with regular consumption. “You may not think you eat a lot of corn and soy beans, but you do,” says author Michael Pollan. “75% of the vegetable oils in your diet come from soy, representing 20% of your daily calories, and more than half of the sweeteners you consume come from corn, representing 10% of your daily calories.”
By choosing an artificial sweetener, you can eliminate potentially 10% of your unnecessary calories almost immediately.
3. This sugar substitute can help people to control their weight.
Artificial sweeteners have virtually no calories to them, even if you consume them in significant amounts. If you compare this advantage to the 16 calories per teaspoon that you receive when eating a sugar-containing product, then you can quickly reduce the levels that you consume every day by making this one change. If a can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, then that is 160 calories which are added to your diet. Replacing that with an artificially sweetened products can help you get a start on the health changes that you need, even if the long-term benefits of the switch are not fully clear.
4. It is an effective product to use for people with diabetes.
It is essential to note that artificial sweeteners are not carbohydrates. Unlike a traditional sugar, these products will not usually raise blood sugar levels during consumption. If you have received a diagnosis of diabetes, then you will want to talk with your doctor about this product and other options that can support your ongoing health needs. Replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener is only one step toward better health and wellness, as diet and exercise are often needed as well.
5. Artificial sweeteners could support better oral health.
The consumption of sugar plays a significant role in the development of tooth decay, cavities, and other issues with oral health. By removing the sweetener that can encourage bacterial growth and plaque along the gum line, it is possible to reduce the adverse impacts that you’re eating and drinking habits can create overtime.
Dental agencies across the United States promote the use of Xylitol in products because it offers an anti-cariogenic effect. There is evidence to suggest that this option when compared to those that produce sugar alcohols can prevent tooth decay by killing the bacteria which can harm your teeth. There are no concerns about de-mineralization of your teeth with this ingredient either.
6. There is less adverse chemical exposure when using artificial sweeteners.
When you are consuming artificial sweeteners, then you are eating something that does not contain artificial pesticides or herbicides to promote the growth of a crap like sugarcane. You can experience this advantage if you purchase organic sugar products at the grocery store as well. Although there will always be issues with health and wellness if you do not consume items in moderation, the positive attributes that you will find with saccharin, sucralose, and similar products will usually outweigh whatever disadvantages may occur.
7. You have several different options from which to choose.
There are four common artificial sweeteners which you can find in most grocery stores today. All of them are priced competitively with a traditional sugar product, but all of them are also sweeter in comparison.
- Acesulfame-K is 200 times sweeter than sugar and is found under the Sweet One and Sunett brand names.
- Aspartame is 180 times sweeter, and you can find it as Equal or NutraSweet.
- Saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sugar, selling under the names Sugar Twin, Sweet Twin, and Sweet ‘N Low.
- Sucralose is 600 times sweeter and sells as Splenda.
NutraSweet also produces an artificial sweetener that goes by the name of neotame or E961. It was approved for use in 2002, but it still is not widely available in food products. This product can be up to 13,000 times sweeter than standard sucrose.
8. Artificial sweeteners are available in a variety of size options.
Most manufacturers of artificial sweeteners are making their products available today in a manner that is similar to table sugar. You can also find the colored packets which are available for individual servings at your local supermarket, restaurants, or another favorite place to eat. Quantities are available in sizes up to 10 pounds in some geographic locations.
That means you can take your preferred artificial sweetener home with you for cooking, or to add sweetness to almost anything. Although you may need to use more to create a similar textural profile for some items, the advantage here is that you can use it just like you can with regular sucrose whenever you want to be active in your kitchen.
List of the Disadvantages of Artificial Sweeteners
1. Artificial sweeteners do not provide added bulk or volume.
There are several artificial sweeteners which are popular for home use. Some of them are even appropriate for use in cooking or baking activities. You will find that certain recipes can require modification because unlike a natural sugar product, artificial sweeteners provide zero volume or bulk. That means you will need to check the labels on your preferred products before incorporating them in your recipes to ensure that they will work in your kitchen.
2. These products can leave a sour aftertaste.
Some artificial sweeteners might provide a sugar substitute that improves the flavor of foods or beverages, but there are also some which can leave a sour aftertaste behind when consuming items that contain this product. The flavor can be distinctly unpleasant for some individuals, which means there may be a need to use a combination of artificial sweeteners or to choose a different product to obtain your caloric goals.
The issue with this disadvantage is the fact that a small amount of an artificial sweetener can produce a sweeter taste than the same levels of real sugar. When someone receives an overstimulation of their sugar receptors, then they can limit their ability to accept complex flavors in healthy foods. It is not unusual to see people rejecting fruits and vegetables because they are frequently using artificial sweeteners to improve the flavor of their foods.
3. Some people are concerned about artificial sweeteners causing health problems.
During the 1970s, research studies with animals suggested that the ongoing consumption of artificial sweeteners could lead to a higher risk of cancer. Some countries went as far as banning most of the products that were on the market at the time to protect consumers. Over the next 40 years, we discovered that the cancer-causing mechanisms in mice and rats that artificial sweeteners trigger is not present in the human population.
Between then and now, products like saccharin carried a warning label to tell consumers that they were potentially unsafe. Some households still avoid artificial sweeteners because of this older research.
Damon Gameau puts it this way: “Respect your body, and look forward to feeling healthy and clean. Your body deserves better than laboratory-made sweetness.”
4. You can still consume too much of it when measured against your body weight.
Artificial sweeteners are considered safe if you consume them at or below the acceptable daily intake for your current body weight. An individual weighing 150 pounds would need to consume 3400 mg of aspartame to exceed their acceptable daily intake. Since the average can of diet soda contains 200 mg of this artificial sweetener, it is challenging for someone to exceed their safe limits, but it is still a disadvantage which must be taken under consideration.
5. You are replacing sugars with chemicals when choosing artificial sweeteners.
According to information from the Lehigh Valley Health Network, the sugar in products which contain artificial sweeteners is a chemical instead of a natural product. Some experts would say that this carries an increased risk of disease, including cancer, and could cause neurological problems or raise cholesterol levels by changing how the liver can process fats. Several studies also show that the regular consumption of an artificial sweetener can increase your cravings for other sweet items.
The only exception to this disadvantage is Stevia, which comes from a plant-based resource. Every other artificial sweetener is a laboratory-created in some way.
6. Artificial sweeteners can lead to possible weight gains.
Although artificial sweeteners are a no- or low-calorie solution for many foods and beverages, a study from the University of Texas-San Antonio suggests that the presence of this product can cause individuals to confuse sweetness with the number of calories they consume each day. This result causes them to choose sweeter foods over healthier ones more often, which becomes a foundation for gaining weight in the future.
Some people find that the use of artificial sweeteners is similar to the outcome that people have when switching to a gluten-free diet. Eating this product can make it so that you feel hungrier afterward, which can make it challenging to stick to your diet plans. Even though you can save calories with the switch, you might find that it is harder to stay away from extra ones.
“Artificial sweeteners may trigger cravings for other sweet foods,” says Suzanne Somers. “when your body is not fed nutrients, it asks again and again for more food, triggering heavy-duty cravings for fattening, sugary foods.”
7. These products change the outcomes of your cooking and baking efforts.
Sugar substitutes are routinely used in baked goods and cooked items. It is essential to realize that the outcomes you expect from your efforts must change if you decide to use an artificial sweetener. Although these products are exceptionally sweet, they don’t provide the same chemical composition as table sugar. That means the appearance and texture of your favorite items will change if you switch from sugar to one of these alternatives.
Most baked goods with a sugar substitute tend to be a lighter in color because the browning effect can no longer take place. Cakes, muffins, and similar items tend to be flatter when they come out of the oven. Items also tend to be denser and drier, with a texture similar to that of a biscuit, since artificial sweeteners do not hold moisture in the same way. That also means your items can become stale faster.
8. You need to read ingredient labels to ensure that you’re avoiding them.
If you don’t want to include artificial sweeteners with your dietary habits, then you will need to start reading ingredient labels at the grocery store immediately. These products are becoming widely available in foods which you may not think about their presence. You can find these items in ice cream, cereal, fruit juices, and sport drinks. There is an excellent chance that you have purchased and consumed something that contains an artificial sweetener without realizing you have done it.
“Sweeteners… are known to increase appetite and results in overeating,” remarks Mehmet Oz. “Be on the lookout for artificial sweeteners, and when possible, steer clear of them.”
9. Some products might collect in the gastrointestinal tract.
Since most artificial sweeteners do not come from natural products, the human body does not always know what to do with it. There are times when your preferred product may begin collecting within the gastrointestinal tract. When this issue occurs, you may find several bothersome symptoms begin to develop rapidly.
Bloating, loose stools, and gas-related pain are the three most common side effects complained about by those who use artificial sweeteners on a regular basis. Then your body will eventually move the unnatural item towards the liver so that it can begin the detoxification process. If you don’t like the feelings that occur as your body processes the product, then the best thing you can do is to stay away from that whenever possible.
10. It can change the metabolic rate of your body.
It is important to remember that your health and wellness goals must involve more than just your body weight. Observational studies that include artificial sweeteners show that there is an increased risk of metabolic conditions with regular consumption. This disadvantage includes problems like heart disease and metabolic syndrome. Although there is no proof of cause-and-effect, there are published studies that have found your risks of Type 2 diabetes can be over 120% higher through the consumption of diet soft drinks.
The consumption of diet soft drinks is also linked to a 34% increase in risk for the development of metabolic syndrome. There can also be issues with disruption in the gut bacteria and glucose intolerance due to the ongoing presence of artificial sweeteners in the gastrointestinal tract.
Conclusion of the Advantages and Disadvantages of Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners do not carry the dangers that we once thought they did, but that does not mean this product in any of its forms is the correct choice to make for your dietary needs. When compared to a traditional sugar, there are significant advantages to consider because of the caloric profile that these items offer. Because some of them can produce sugar alcohols as part of the digestive process, they may not be as healthy as some may realize.
The National Cancer Institute and numerous agencies from around the world have found out scientific evidence to suggest that artificial sweeteners can cause health problems or cancer in humans. Some countries, including the United States, still ban certain options out of a preponderance of safety, but the research supports the idea that these products can provide health benefits when consumed at reasonable levels.
If you feel that artificial sweeteners are not the best choice for your health needs, you don’t need to go back to regular sugar. Molasses, maple syrup, honey, nectars, and juices can provide a natural sweetening effect for foods as well. Some of these may even have some health benefits that a lab-created product cannot offer.
The advantages and disadvantages of artificial sweeteners provide key points that each consumer must evaluate for themselves and their families. If you aren’t sure of what the best option for your dietary needs happens to be, then a consultation with your primary care provider can help to shine some light on the ways that you can start to take charge of your health and wellness habits.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.