Safe & Sweet: How Safe are Your Daily Artificial Sweeteners?

 

Stan Starsky: Hi, this is Stan Starsky from Peace, Love & Snacks, author of the healthy snacks cookbook, Peace, Love & Snacks. Today, we’ve got a great topic. I think it’s an interesting topic. I’m going to interview Lara Field.

 

Lara is a registered dietitian. She is a pediatric dietitian. She does private consultations. She also consults with schools and businesses. You’re going to want to check out her website. That is www.feedkids.com. Welcome!

 

Lara Field: Thank you. Thanks for having me here. I’m excited to talk about some hot topics in nutrition like what we’re talking about today.

 

Stan: Absolutely! We talked a little bit earlier. We were talking a bit about artificial sweeteners. Let’s just first get into it. If you can maybe just go through that really quickly, what really are artificial sweeteners.

 

Lara: Sure! Artificial sweeteners are something that food companies use to fake out our sweet tooth. A lot of sodas and yoghurts and just variety of food products have sweeteners in them for the interest of the dieting world. Many food companies have relied on artificial sweeteners to again give the sweet teeth to food products, but take out the extra calories. It’s been a very interesting market. There’s been a lot of growth in it over the years.

 

Stan: What happens when we eat these? What happen actually in the body when people ingest these artificial sweeteners?

 

Lara: Well, artificial sweeteners are processed just like sugar. They’re digested and there is no sugar, there’s no calories in them. It gives sweet teeth, but it decreases the calories or it eliminates the calories.

 

The big question always has always been safety concerns. There’s been a lot of debate about confusing our body’s mechanism in the sense that some people feel like long-term use of low calories sweeteners have caused our taste receptors to change. Some researchers looked into if it stimulates an appetite for sweet food and other things about actually promoting weight gain. It’s a very controversial topic if these sweeteners are safe.

 

More importantly, just a list of some things that are artificial sweeteners. Well, some that come to mind that are very popular are something like saccharine, which had been around for a long time. It’s known as Sweet n’ Low. Another one that we kind of hear of now is Nutrisweet. It’s been around for some time also. Somewhat new are sucrose or Splenda. More recent, Stevia. And another one that’s been known a lot less, I’d say six months to a year, that have come out is something called the monk fruit plan, which has now made a variety called Nuctrust.

 

There’s a lot on the market and a lot to choose from. They all have different taste and properties to them. Some have different sweeteners to them that make food products taste a little different.

 

Stan: Good, good! There are a lot of rumors. First, let me ask you this, too. Stevia, isn’t that just a natural sweetener? Doesn’t that just come from a plant though?

 

Lara: Stevia and monk fruit, both of those are the more natural variety. Stevia is an extract from a plant that grows from Brazil and Paraguay actually. There is calories, but we can’t metabolize it.

 

Yes, it’s natural, but all things natural don’t make them safe necessarily. There is some question about the long-term safety of all these products. They are deemed as safe probably because they’re a natural product, but just the long-term accepted consumption is still unknown.

 

Stan: Good point! Maybe if you go through them a little bit, what’s your opinion – I mean, there’s a lot of rumors out there with Nutrasweet and Saccharin and Splenda, especially those three, I feel and maybe some about Stevia and then, also the Monk Fruit, too. Maybe just starting at the top, Saccharin, can you maybe give us some advice? What your feeling is…?

 

Lara: Yeah, sure! Overall, I think as a pediatric dietitian working with kids and families to promote better health and prevent disease, in general, I think low calories or artificial sweeteners should be used in moderation. I do feel that in kids, there is not sufficient long-term research to say exactly that these are deemed “safe” or appropriate for long-term use. In general, our obstetricians typically tell pregnant moms to stay away from artificial sweeteners. So, I just get a little bit concerned to promote these products with kids and especially younger kids that are growing and developing.

 

In general, I feel like family should really use their best judgment to eat more natural foods and decrease their consumption of artificial sweeteners because long-term research is still questionable.

 

With that, Saccharin is Sweet n’ Low. It’s really researched earlier, in about 2004 and it’s said that it’s questionably safe. It doesn’t carry a warning that it used to have that it may cause Cancer in humans. I just kind of used that as a background to understand that it was questionably unsafe previously.

 

Then going to Nutrasweet or aspartame or also, the blue packet, it’s probably safe, but it’s just, again, questionable about long-term studies. Some research says that aspartame may cause headaches. I would suggest watching consumption.

 

Sucrose, which is Splenda, there’s a big claim by the brand that uses this that it’s derived from sugar. So, it’s made from sugar. That makes it more natural in some perspective. It’s low calorie, it’s doesn’t metabolize for energy, so that’s why they say it’s artificial sweetener.

 

It has passed all safety concerns in all animal studies. There is no harm necessarily. However, I just think in general that it’s not something that I would have in a daily diet or in abundant quantities.

 

Something that I didn’t mention previously are sugar alcohols. Those are sorbitol, vilatol, mannitol. Some of those are in products like candies with no sugar added – ice creams, different products that have a –dom, for instance. They’re not sugar and they’re not alcohol necessarily either, but they are not metabolized the same way.

 

I just want to put a concern as to the over-consumption of some of these products of sugar alcohol that does create a bit of [00:09:29] effects or some GI discomfort. So, using them in large quantities would not be recommended.

 

And then, finally, like I mentioned again before, with Stevia and Monk Fruit, those are the two more natural artificial sweeteners. They’re kind of new on the block. I do caution usage in large quantities for these, as well.

 

Stan: And looking at maybe just Saccharin, too, Nutrasweet and Splenda, is there one that’s maybe worse than the other or is it hard to say or is that even a fair…?

 

Lara: Yes, I think it’s kind of hard to say, yet Saccharin would be – I’m sorry, did you use Saccharin in that category? I think Saccharin would be the one that I would say would be my biggest concern. And throughout, they kind of all mesh together aside from the sugar alcohol, which could cause some discomfort. But from a long-term harm perspective, I think we just don’t know about all of these.

 

Stan: Sure, sure! So, then it’s just up to blind faith and eat real food then, I guess.

 

Lara: That’s kind of my motto. Eating more real food more frequently, things with less ingredient less processed food. That’s why when taking some of these, you would naturally some of these low calorie sweeteners out of the mix.

 

I think there’s a lot of people that are I guess “addicted” to sugar substitute and use them in their daily coffee, in cereal, hot cereal. There is a lot that adds up. I think changing taste buds almost in a way that you’re trying to wean these off and use either real sugar in small quantities or none at all. I think when you start taking it out of your daily routine, you don’t mess it so much. Trying to assess that would be important.

 

Stan: Lara, is there anything else? Maybe if there’s one or two things or anything else you’d like to add to sort of wrap this up or any kind of final takeaway that people should remember or think about?

 

Lara: I think there’s a recent report in the Journal of Nutrition, which I thought was really interesting when they mentioned some of these things that there are some thought that low calories sweeteners or artificial sweeteners had an impact on appetite, satiety or the feeling of fullness and weight, truly that again, unfortunately, we need some more long-term research. We just don’t know the long-term effects of low calorie sweeteners in children and adolescent. Because of that, I would just caution its usage.

 

Again, those three things, like causing taste receptors to change, stimulating appetite for sweet foods and promoting weight gain, we just don’t know that. So, there’s truly no reason to avoid low calorie sweeteners because of that. I do think on the one hand that they are useful from a weight management standpoint, but on the other hand, for children, for long-term usage, I would suggest people caution their usage.

 

Stan: I appreciate that. Alright, Lara, thanks again. Thanks for your time. That about wraps it up.

 

Lara: Same with you. Glad we’re talking about that.

 

Stan: Absolutely! Once again, my name is Stan Starsky from Peace, Love and Snacks, author of the healthy snacks cookbook, Peace, Love & Snacks. This wraps up this interview with Lara Field. Once again, Lara is a registered dietitian, pediatric dietitian. She does private consulting and also consults with businesses and schools. You should check out her website at www.feedkids.com. Until next time, have a great week! Thanks!

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