A Pinch of Artificial Sweetener, Please?

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By : Editor

Just how much is too much? Our bodies are designed to crave sugary treats. “Sugar is a deep, deep ancient craving,” – Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University explains in his book ‘The Story the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and diseases’. But too much added sugar in our diet has proven to be the leading cause of weight gain and obesityType 2 diabetes and dental decay. We know we shouldn’t be eating candy, ice cream, cookies, and cakes and drinking sugary sodas, but yet they are so hard to resist. 

Consumption of sugary food releases a “feel-good” chemical called dopamine, signaling the brain that the occurred event was a positive one, and reinforces repetitive behaviour in humans — which makes it more likely for us to repeat our actions of consuming more processed sugar. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), our consumption of added sugars should be limited upto five percent of our daily calorie intake, which is 25g (six teaspoons per day). Although it is not simple to break old habits and resist sugar intakes instantaneously, artificial sweeteners were invented to be the easy way out! 

Artificial sweeteners were originally synthesized in 1879, and would taste like sugar but have scarcely any calories; the goal was to have sweeteners that could be consumed without developing diseases or gaining any weight. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved five artificial sweeteners: Saccharin, Acesulfame, Aspartame, Neotame, and Sucralose. It has also approved one natural low-calorie sweetener, Stevia. But how the human body and brain respond to these sweeteners can be complex and should be included in your diet after consulting an expert.

What exactly is Saccharin?

Saccharin is an artificial, or non-nutritive, sweetener that was discovered in 1879 by Constantin Fahlberg, a Johns Hopkins University scientist working on coal-tar derivatives. The reason saccharin is so low in calories is that it is 200 to 700 times sweeter than table sugar, so the quantity needed in any product/food is very little. It has since been used in the production of various foods and pharmaceutical products including:

  • Baked goods
  • Jams
  • Chewing gum
  • Drinks
  • Tinned fruit
  • Medicines and
  • Toothpaste

Is it safe?

Health authorities like The World Health Organization (WHO), The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agree that saccharin is safe for consumers. FDA has also determined the amount of Daily acceptable body (ADI) of saccharin to be 2.3 mg/lb (5 mg/kg) of body weight. 

Benefits of Saccharin

Saccharin can be blended with other artificial sweeteners to compensate for each sweetener’s weaknesses. It is commonly mixed with cyclamate or aspartame that is often used in diet carbonated soft drinks.

Consumption of saccharin-sweetened products can be beneficial for diabetics as the substance goes directly through the human digestive system without being digested. Although it has no food energy, it can trigger the release of insulin in humans due to its sweet taste.

Possible side-effects?

In 1977 a study indicated that Saccharin might contribute to cancer in rats. But when further research was conducted, it was found that the mechanism responsible for bladder tumor formation in the male rats was different than in humans. So, in 2000 the chemical was officially removed from the Federal Government’s list of suspected carcinogens. While the association between saccharin consumption and bladder cancer risk has been disproved, many health groups still believe that its use should be limited or better yet, exempted by infants, children, and pregnant women due to possible allergic reactions. Saccharin belongs to a class of compounds known as sulfonamides, which can cause allergic reactions in some individuals which include:

  • Headaches
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Diarrhoea and
  • Skin problems

With that being said, the likelihood of negative effects can vary on different individuals and depend on the type of artificial sweetener consumed. These artificial sweeteners are especially beneficial if they are used to decrease the amount of added sugar in your diet. Saccharin may help in weight loss, blood sugar control, and dental health; however all these benefits are not due to the sweetener itself, but the result of reducing or avoiding processed sugar intake by an individual. Although Saccharin appears to be safe for consumption and is an acceptable alternative to sugar, making an informed decision of whether to incorporate it into your diet rests solely upon an individual.