This is potentially one of the more controversial areas of nutrition with strong debating existing within the health and fitness community. Are artificial sweeteners good for you? Well, in summary. They aren’t really ‘good’ for you, but they aren’t bad for you either. Let’s look at some of the key issues and arguments made.
The Cancer Link
Any search online on this question you are undoubtedly able to find a news story about a study linking artificial sweeteners to Cancer. This is true – there are studies. But the actual issues we learn from these studies are misrepresented and exaggerated.
Firstly, most of the studies you will find tend to be animal studies. This is not to disregard all animal studies, because they do provide us some key information, but you cannot make absolute statements about the effect on humans from these studies.
Secondly, the amount of sweeteners used in these studies far exceeds what any person would actually consume. It would be the equivalent of consuming upwards of 10 times the recommended daily intake. Of course you consume 10 times the recommended amount of Vitamin A you’re likely to have some health issues – but you wouldn’t exclaim vitamin A is dangerous or bad for you.
Finally, most of the cancer link studies focus on Aspartme. A sweetener that is rarely used by any food or beverage production company anymore, and thus results of these studies should not be applied to all sweeteners.
Doesn’t it induce an Insulin response?
No. The assumption that suggests the body physiologically the same as when sugar is consumed (excreting insulin) is just plain wrong. If it were the case, insulin would be working to reduce your blood sugar levels below its normal levels and you would experience hypoglycaemia and potentially lose consciousness.
Effect on Hunger and Cravings
An argument used against artificial sweeteners is that it actually will increase your body’s cravings for sweets and make you feel hungry. The research is quite mixed, with most heavily controlled studies demonstrating that artificial sweeteners do not induce an increase in hunger or cravings, or does not fail to satisfy cravings anymore than regular sugars.
The takeaway message
The fear mongering about artificial sweeteners are based on false assumptions and exaggerations of research findings. I would recommend avoiding soft drinks, altogether, but I would definitely recommend diet soft drinks over their regular sugar counterparts. Controlled studies have shown that replacing regular soft drinks with their diet counterparts has resulted in weight loss – simply because there are less calories.
If you can avoid soft drinks altogether, do it. If not, have the diet/sugar free varieties.