Sep 01 2010
I am concerned about eating too much sugar; are artificial sweeteners safe?
For centuries, sugars have been used to enhance the flavour of the foods we eat. More recently, eating large amounts of sugar has been linked to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. However, research doesn’t support these claims. In fact, tooth decay is the only health problem that has been proven to be linked to sugar intake. Regular brushing, flossing and dental care can help prevent the effects of sugars on your teeth.
Canadians are advised to choose sugars in moderation as part of a balanced diet based on Canada’s Food Guide. Keeping an eye on your sugar intake is important because sugars provide food energy (calories) but few other nutrients.
Artificial sweeteners make food sweeter but don’t contain any real food energy (calories). Artificial sweeteners have a different chemical makeup than sugars, so the amount you need to produce a sweet taste is different than for sugars. They generally don’t affect your blood glucose levels.
Health Canada must approve all the artificial sweeteners that are sold in Canada. A sweetener has to undergo extensive research to show its safety and effectiveness before Health Canada will approve it for use. Once a sweetener is approved, Health Canada sets strict guidelines for how it can be used, as well as advice on Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) levels.
The following shows the different types of sweeteners that have been approved for use in Canada:
- Aspartame is marketed under the brand names of Equal™ and Nutrasweet™. It’s used in soft drinks, yogurt, candy and as a table-top sweetener. It is not for use in cooking nor baking. It contains phenylalanine, so people with phenylketonuria (PKU) must avoid aspartame. It is considered safe for use by pregnant women.
- Sucralose is marketed under the brand name Splenda™. It is widely used in soft drinks, candy, baked goods and frozen desserts and ice cream products. It is used widely for home cooking and baking and is considered safe for use by pregnant women.
- Acesulfame potassium is not used as a table top sweetener. It’s used only by food manufacturers as an ingredient for sweetening soft drinks and candy. Since it contains potassium, people on low potassium diets should avoid using this product. It is considered safe for use by pregnant women. If you’re taking antibiotics that contain sulfa, this product may interfere with your medications.
- Sugar alcohols (sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, xylitol) can’t be bought as table sweeteners but are used by food manufacturers in foods and beverages such as candy, frozen desserts and ice cream products. Sugar alcohols aren’t “true” artificial sweeteners – they do provide small amounts of calories which may affect blood glucose (sugar) levels. Large amounts (more than 10 grams/day) can cause diarrhea, cramps, gas and bloating.
- Saccharin is marketed as the table top sweetener Hermesetas®. It can only be bought at pharmacies in Canada and should be avoided during pregnancy.
- Cyclamate is marketed as the table top sweeteners Sucaryl®, Sugar Twin® and Sweet ‘N Low® . It isn’t recommended for cooking and baking and should be avoided during pregnancy.
In moderation, both sugars and artificial sweeteners can be part of your healthy eating plan.