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Posted by portugalpress on December 21, 2017

Whether your goal is cutting calories or eating healthier, sugar substitutes abound. With overweight and obesity rates soaring, many people may think they have to give up sweets in order to lose weight. Understand a little bit more about one of the most utilised low-calorie sweeteners used in food and beverage industry – aspartame – and make an informed choice.

If you’re trying to reduce the sugar and calories in your diet, you may be substituting sugar for artificial sweeteners or other sugar substitutes.

Today, artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes are found in a variety of food and beverages marketed as “sugar-free” or “diet”, including a variety of dairy products, canned fruits, desserts, cakes, sauces and dressings.

Understanding artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes
Sugar substitutes are loosely considered any sweetener that you use instead of regular table sugar (sucrose). Artificial sweeteners are just one type of sugar substitute. The following chart lists some popular sugar substitutes and how they are commonly categorised.

Artificial sweeteners are attractive alternatives to sugar because they don’t add significant calories to your diet. In addition, you need only a fraction compared with the amount of sugar you would normally use as a sweetener.

Artificial sweeteners are widely used in processed foods, including baked goods, soft drinks, powdered drink mixes, candy, puddings, canned foods, jams and jellies, dairy products, and scores of other foods and beverages.

Possible health benefits of artificial sweeteners
One benefit of artificial sweeteners is that they don’t contribute to tooth decay and cavities. They may also help with the following:

Weight management – one of the most appealing aspects of artificial sweeteners is that they have virtually no calories. In contrast, each gram of regular table sugar contains 4 calories. A teaspoon of sugar is about 4 grams. If you’re trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain, products sweetened with artificial sweeteners rather than with higher calorie table sugar may be an attractive option.

Diabetes – artificial sweeteners may be a good alternative to sugar if you have diabetes. Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners generally don’t raise blood sugar levels because they are not carbohydrates. People who have diabetes should talk with a dietitian and/or health care professional for advice on incorporating foods and beverages containing low-calorie sweeteners into their diets.

Possible health concerns with artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners have been the subject of intense scrutiny for decades. Critics of artificial sweeteners say that they cause a variety of health problems, including cancer. But according to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies, there is no sound scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for consumption cause cancer or other serious health problems.

Numerous research studies confirm that artificial sweeteners are generally safe in limited quantities, even for pregnant women.

Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food additives. They must be reviewed and approved by the FDA before being made available for sale.

The FDA has also established an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for each artificial sweetener. This is the maximum amount considered safe as to consume each day over the course of your lifetime. ADIs are intended to be about 100 times less than the smallest amount that might cause health concerns.

Aspartame is a low-calorie sweetener that provides sweetness to foods and beverages without adding significant calories. Nutrition and fitness experts agree that balancing the intake of calories with the calories you burn is important for health reasons. Aspartame can play a role in weight management programmes that combine sensible nutrition and physical activity.

Aspartame is not very heat stable; therefore, it is not recommended for use in baking or in cooking methods that require extended exposure to high temperatures, as the flavour breaks down, reducing the sweetness of the final product. So, this sweetener is typically used in prepared foods and beverages that do not require heating during preparation, but can be added to a cup of coffee or tea.

Aspartame has been studied extensively and has been found to be safe by experts and researchers. Government agencies worldwide, including the FDA, have also reviewed the science and found aspartame to be safe for human consumption.

Although it is considered safe to be used, this sweetener has been the subject of several controversies since its initial approval by the FDA in 1974.

Potential health risks have been examined and dismissed by numerous scientific research projects. With the exception of the risk to those with phenylketonuria (PKU), Aspartame is considered to be a safe food additive by governments and major health and food safety organisations.

People with PKU cannot metabolise phenylalanine, an amino acid that is found in aspartame and many other foods. Foods and beverages sweetened with aspartame are labeled to alert people who have PKU to the presence of phenylalanine.

Ana Rita Horta

Ana Rita Horta is a Dietitian at the Hospital Particular do Algarve
FDA officials describe aspartame as “one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives the agency has ever approved” and its safety as “clear cut”.