Artificial sweeteners: a great way to curb the damaging effects of sugar, or chemical poisons that can harm our health? The answer is: a little of both.
We all know sugar is pure evil in food form, but, damn it, it tastes sooooo good. Which is, of course, why there are a loads of sugar substitutes on the market, all aimed at giving you that sugar rush without the weight gain or blood glucose rollercoaster.
Unfortunately, they’re also mired in controversy. According to Megan Pentz-Kluyts, a dietician with the Cancer Association of South Africa, ‘a large number of studies have been carried out on these substances, with conclusions ranging from “safe under all conditions” to “unsafe at any dose”. Scientists are divided in their views on the issue of artificial sweetener safety.’
So where does that leave us? Luckily, the main sweeteners on sale in South Africa have been tested extensively, and are safe if consumption does not exceed the amount recommended on the packaging. In fact, sweeteners can be an effective way for diabetics to help manage their condition, and also an important aid for those trying to lose weight.
The caveat is, however, that we should not rely too heavily on sweeteners, but instead try to wean ourselves off our craving for sweet food. By all means, use them in your tea, coffee, or in baking, but never exceed the recommended amounts. They are, after all, man-made chemical products that are not produced by the body, meaning your body is not designed to deal with these substances, and they also have little nutritional value.
These sugar substitutes have a kilojoule value, which may be as high as sugar.
Sorbitol and Xylitol: These sweeteners have 33% fewer kilojoules that sugar, but are half as sweet (so you’d need more to achieve the same sweetness level as sugar – not ideal).
Fructose: Naturally found in fruit, honey and veg, fructose has the same energy value as sugar, but is one and a half times sweeter (so you use less).
These sweeteners are considered to have no kilojoule value.
Aspartame: It’s 200 times as sweet as sugar (technically it does have a kilojoule value, but you need so little that it’s hardly worth measuring). Aspartame has been found to be safe for children, pregnant women and diabetics by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Saccharine: This is a REALLY sweet sweetener that is over 300 times sweeter than sugar. It can be used in baking as it doesn’t lose sweetness when heated (like some other sweeteners). It has been linked to cancer development in the past, and although saccharine has since been cleared of any carcinogenic effects, it is still recommended that children and pregnant women do not consume saccharine.
Sugalite: This product that can be used in tea and coffee, as well as baked goods, and has the same sweetness level as sugar. It may have a mild laxative effect in large quantities as the ingredients behave like fibre in the body.