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Artificial Sweeteners - What Do You Know About Them?

Written and reviewed by
MD - Medicine, MBBS, FICP, FRCP (Glasgow), FACE
Endocrinologist, Delhi  •  39years experience
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I am doctor Brij Mohan Makkar. I am a practising diabetes specialist at Delhi. Today I am going to tell you something about artificial sweeteners or they are also called as low calorie sweeteners or non caloric sweeteners or non-nutritive sweeteners. Basically, these are sweeting agents which do not have any calories, which do not add any calories to your food and that is why usually people who have diabetes prefer to take these sweeteners instead of common sugar or the table sugar. Now, there are always questions relating to these sweeteners whether they are safe, there are so many you know WhatsApp and social media post showing that they are they can cause cancer, they are bad for health and so on. Important thing to understand is that there are a set of sweeteners which like sugar sweeten your food but do not have calories and they are, their sweetening capacity is 100-4,500 times more than the common sugar or table sugar.

So, you need to use a fraction of amount as compared to the common sugar to make your food sweeter. Now, whether they are safe? Well, the number of agents that are available commonly has sweeten low or sugar free or zero or splenda all these are safe. The technical names of these sweeteners are aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame and neotame any of these sweeteners have been shown to be safe if they are consumed in the recommended doses or the recommended amounts if you have not consumed large amounts. Now, as far the question of their causing cancer I think there is a big myth. There is no evidence that the recommended amount of these sweeteners cause any kind of cancer or any long-term problem. Now, important thing is do they actually help in cutting down calories. Now, you have to understand that lot of foods have calories coming from other sources like fats, oils or butter and suppose you are eating ice cream which is low cal ice cream that means it doesn't have sugar but has a sweetener does not mean it will have very low calories, it will still have lot of calories.

So, just you know depending on low caloric sweetener to cut down the total calorie intake is not always a very good idea. So, patients with diabetes or patients who are overweight and who want to cut down calories, a general recommendation is that you should cut down the foods which have dense calories that means they have excess sugar or excess fat and you should also consume less of sweetened foods and sweetened beverages so that you change your lifestyle, you improve your food habits and as a process you cut down calories. Yes, people who are used to taking multiple you know soft drinks or repeated soft drinks in the daytime or sweetened food all the time there these artificial sweeteners are very helpful because you can cut down the amount of calories because you are taking lot of sugar in your food and replacing sugar with sweeteners will cut down the amount of calories that is going with food as sugar.

But you have to make sure that you don't take excess of these are sweeteners also. Generally, about 6-8 tablets of sweeteners are considered safe per day but on an average I would recommend that people should not focus on taking more of sweeteners also because it is not a good habit, ultimately you have to focus on change of lifestyle, improve your eating habits, improve your diet in general, move to healthy foods like more of salads, fruits, high fibre diets and less of sugar and oil diets to improve your sugar levels as well as your weight. So, as far the notion goes that all artificial sweeteners are bad, it is not so. They are safe, they can be taken in recommended amounts but access should not be advised because you have to ultimately focus on change in lifestyle.

Now there is a big fad about stivia also going on that stivia is a natural thing and it is safe, stivia again has you know alkaloid called drab-A which is about 3-400 times sweeter than sugar but it has little better after taste. Generally, there is no generally it is regarded as safe because it is a plant product so these products can come under a category called grass, generally regarded as safe. There are no scientific studies which have shown that they are safe in long term. So, I think the same precautions should be used which you are using with other artificial sweeteners for stivia also. But, these sweetness can be of help for patients in reducing caloric intake to begin with as long as for sometime to tide over the craving for sweet foods and gradually you should move to a healthier lifestyle and healthier eating with more of fibre and you know less calorie dense foods rather than focusing on the intake of sugars or sweeteners.

Thank you.

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