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Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?

Our lives just won’t be the same without the sweetness of sugar. So what do you do when the doctor tells you that it’s time to cut back on the calories or if the mirror tells you the same thing?
Fortunately, we don’t have to settle with tasteless desserts or straight up black coffee. There are artificial sweeteners available on the market that sweeten our food while delivering virtually zero calories. These are synthetic sugar substitutes that are commercially manufactured but can come from natural sources and even from sugar itself. Brand names like Sweet One, Equal, Splenda, NutraSweet, and Sweet’n’Low are staple sachets in many food establishments and more and more people opt to use it instead of table sugar even without the motivation coming from health conditions or wanting to lose weight. But with technical terms behind these brand names such as Acesulfame Potassium, Aspartame, Neotame, Sachharin and Sucralose, no wonder people are wary. These terms sound like they’re a list out of a science experiment which leaves many wondering: are artificial sweeteners safe?

People use artificial sweeteners for two main reasons: to lose weight and for health reasons. Every gram of table sugar contains 4 calories, versus almost zero for regular sugar. This means that reaching for that diet soda is a no brainer choice for people who want to lose weight, compared to the 130 calorie can of regular soda. But there is some controversy surrounding this. Some studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may actually facilitate weight gain, for reasons yet unknown.

The most popular health concern that taking artificial sweeteners address is diabetes. Diabetes is a condition where a person has to much glucose in the bloodstream. This means that a diabetic will have to watch out for the amount of glucose that he takes in. By taking artificial sweeteners, he lowers his sugar intake while not shaving off sweetness to sacrifice taste. Another health concern responsible for taking artificial sweeteners is tooth decay. Sugar is a natural food for bacteria in the mouth, and taking in much sugar could agitate an already decaying mouth. Taking artificial sweeteners lessen this risk.

 In the 70’s, there was a saccharin scare because laboratory studies on mice found that regular doses of saccharin caused male mice to develop bladder cancer. There was a cry for it to be removed from the market, but the food industry put up a fight, causing congress to mandate all products to have a warning on the label for products containing saccharin and it read: "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals."

But in the 90’s the Calorie Control Council deemed that the study showed that only male rats are affected by saccharin—not female rats and definitely not people. It was also stated that rats have a predisposition to bladder cancer.  The flaw in the old study recommendation was taken apart and as a result the National Institutes of Health had to remove saccharin from the notorious list of cancer causing agents.

The verdict? Taken in moderate amounts, sweeteners don’t seem to have any negative effects on the body—at least no conclusive scientific studies have proven otherwise just yet. Like most other foods, it may affect different individuals differently in terms of minor side effects and as such, you should watch out for what your body says about it and stick within your limits.