Are artificial sweeteners a healthy alternative?

Calorie counters and those of us concerned about our sugar intake have been turning to artificial sweeteners as sugar free substitutes ever since they first gained popularity at the beginning of the twentieth century. Saccharin, one of the first artificial sweeteners to be developed, became popular during the sugar shortages of the First World War. On average, a 12-ounce can of non-diet soda contains around 150 calories and approximately ten teaspoons of sugar. Compare this to the 0 calories in a can of diet soda and it’s easy to see why so many of us choose these products.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate artificial sweeteners as food additives. One of the most popular sweeteners on the market, Aspartame, was approved in 1981 after studies at the time showed that it didn’t cause cancer or other adverse effects in laboratory animals. Whilst it hasn’t ever been conclusively proven that aspartame has damaging health effects, various concerns have arisen over its use as a sweetener since its development. An amino acid contained within aspartame, aspartic acid, functions as a neurotransmitter. This has led to worries that aspartame causes headaches and migraines. Aspartame has been blamed for many other medical conditions ranging from minor digestive symptoms to multiple sclerosis although it’s important to note that studies haven’t found any conclusive evidence to support these claims.

Artificial sweeteners have also been accused of changing the way we taste food. There are concerns that as chemically produced sweeteners are so much sweeter than sugar, they may limit our tolerance for more complex tastes. Fruit and vegetables may become unappealing because your taste buds become accustomed to the intense sweetness of these products.

Today products such as Stevia are giving consumers more choices when making food and beverage purchases. Stevia is derived from the South American Stevia plant and is a more natural alternative to the lab produced chemical sweeteners on the market. However as with all of these products, there are concerns that enough tests haven’t been conducted on this product to ensure it’s safe for long-term consumption. It’s fair to say that as with everything that isn’t necessarily good for you, it should be consumed in moderation. Next time you crave a soda consider a healthier alternative such as sparkling water mixed with a small amount of fruit juice. If you really need your soda fix, various companies have developed sodas sweetened with Stevia and no artificial sweeteners.


I. – 6 Most Popular Artificial Sweeteners
II. Harvard Health Publications (07/2012)
III. Mayo Clinic – Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes
IV. National Cancer Institute – Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer
V. American Cancer Society
VI. – Stevia: The ‘Holy Grail’ of Sweeteners?

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