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As Sweet as Sugar

No getting around it, we Americans have a sweet tooth. Most of us eat the equivalent of 22 teaspoons, approximately 350 calories, of sugar a day.  For those who are trying to lose weight or must watch their blood sugar as with diabetes, too much sugar can be a problem.  Artificial sweeteners are consumed daily worldwide. They have been used for over 100 years.  Sweeteners are so much sweeter than sugar (hundreds to thousands of times sweeter), a very small amount is needed to achieve the same amount of sweetness one gets from sugar.

Supplement companies are increasingly relying on artificial sweeteners for flavoring their products so the drinks can be low in calories while also tasting good.  Artificial sweeteners are not broken down like natural sweeteners, and many cannot be utilized for energy.<sup>  </sup>Therefore, they do not provide nutrients that fuel the body during exercise, nor do they present any added benefit when recovering from training or workout routines.

Despite not being suitable to help provide fuel for exercise or contribute directly to improved recovery from training sessions, artificial sweeteners do have some beneficial qualities.  For example, they can make your supplements taste better, and they can help extend shelf life in products.  Artificial sweeteners do not contribute to tooth decay and cavities, and they are calorie-free.

Most products that are marketed as having less sugar, reduced calories, or zero calories, likely contain artificial sweeteners.  There are 6 artificial sweeteners currently approved by the FDA:

  • Acesulfame potassium (Sunett)
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • D-Tagatose (Sugaree)
  • Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
  • Advantame

The FDA has also approved one natural low-calorie sweetener, Stevia.

Saccharin – which is 300 times sweeter than sugar — was used during World War I and World War II to make up for sugar shortages and rationing.  In the 1970s, the FDA was going to ban saccharin based on the reports of a Canadian study that showed that saccharin was causing bladder cancer in rats. A public outcry kept saccharin on the shelves (there were no other sugar substitutes at that time), but with a warning label that read, “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.”

That warning label is no longer needed, says Ruth Kava, PhD, RD, of the American Council on Science and Health. Further research has shown that male rats have a particular pH factor that predisposes them to bladder cancer, and what may be true for male rats does not necessarily hold true for humans (or even for female rats).

Aspartame – Like saccharin, this is another sweetener that, though thoroughly tested by the FDA and deemed safe for the general population, has had its share of critics blaming the sweetener for causing everything from brain tumors to chronic fatigue syndrome. But according to studies, the only people for whom aspartame is a medical problem are those with the genetic condition known as phenylkenoturia (PKU), a disorder of amino acid metabolism. Since phenylalanine is one of the two amino acids in aspartame, people who suffer from PKU are advised not to use it.

Stevia – is an herbal sweetener that has been used in food and beverages by South American natives for many centuries and in Japan since the mid-1970s.  According to Ray Sahelian, MD, author of The Stevia Cookbook, stevia has shown no significant side effects after more than 20 years of use in Japan.

There is too much research out there to cover comprehensively in a blog article, but I’ll try to compile a few of the basics to review in our next article.  Stay tuned, and stay healthy!

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