Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?
As a nation, we Indians love our sweets and sweet dishes. And digging into that yummy dessert doesn’t really call for a celebration or an occasion to prepare the same. So, it tends to get difficult for many of us to resist a sweet dish. Even those who insist that they do not have a sweet tooth, like to enjoy the occasional taste of sweet on their palate.
Most sweets in our country are usually sugar based, although jaggery and honey are also used in smaller portions. Each teaspoon of sugar (approximately four grams) is equivalent to 16 calories with jaggery providing around 38 calories and honey about 22 calories per teaspoon. But since honey is sweeter, it ¡s used in lesser quantities than sugar.
What Sugar Does To The Body
It adds up calories and leads to weight gain over a period of time. With an average diet, at least about 50-100 calories per day are contributed by the intake of sugar and sugar sweetened beverages, all of which are empty calories. The widespread availability and increase In the consumption of sugar based snacks and drinks is rapidly becoming a global health problem.
Also, an increasing trend towards the development of obesity and metabolic syndrome and with India being unenviably referred to as the diabetes capital of the world, there is an urgent need to restrict calorie intake. Besides, more emphasis should be given to sugar substitutes for people who cannot manage their sweet cravings.
The Use Of Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are additives which when added to food, provide a sweet taste like sugar without the disadvantages of the additional calories.
The term mainly refers to synthetic substances. Among the artificial sweetening agents, the commonly used ones are the non-nutritive sweeteners including aspartame (equal), saccharine, acesulfame potassium, neotame, sucralose (splenda, sugar free). All of these are approved by the US FDA and also by the FSSAI.
These sweeteners have an intense sweet taste with a potency of between 180 to 300 times the regular sweetness of sugar and hence can be used in very less quantities. to satisfy your taste buds. Usage of these sweeteners, both at home and in commercial preparations, including in beverages, baked and other packaged snacks and sweets which are mass produced, is becoming very popular.
Health Benefits of Artificial Sweeteners
The main health benefits of these sweetening agents are seen in patients with diabetes and in overweight or obese people. In diabetic patients, the use of artificial sweeteners helps to improve dietary compliance, limit the increased calorie risk with sugar use and reduce the sudden fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which are seen with the intake of regular sugar
As part of a weight loss regimen, artificial sweeteners help by reducing the number of calones consumed per day, leading to a more sustained weight loss.
Another added advantage of sweeteners pertains to the reduced incidence of dental decay and caries which is significantly more with use of sugar-based foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, especially in children and adolescents.
What The Future Holds
Recommending a universal switchover to sweeteners is still not being totally considered, as the drawback of artificial sweeteners as being chemically synthesised substances, is still a concern. Also, long-term use of sweeteners could also lead to an increased intake of carbohydrate-rich sweetened food which again is bound to lead to a reverse weight gain issue and its associated complications.
The segment of other natural sugar substitutes is slowly gaining popularity. Stevia, a plant based (leaf) sugar substitute from the Asteraceae family is now being made commercially available. The leaves of the stevia plant contain steviol glycosides and it is said to have double the sweetness of sugar with no calories. As it is plant based, it is likely to have a good safety profile and ¡f availability is widespread, it could lead to stevia being promoted as a natural sugar substitute in the years to come.
The fact that artificial sweeteners are chemically synthesised substances is still a concern
More importantly, the use of sugar in food and beverages needs to be globally reduced and restricted to prevent the pandemic of obesity, diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome with all their associated complications. Use of artificial sweeteners may be considered as an option, it necessary but in small quantities, mainly in diabetic and obese patients, as sugar substitutes for better dietary benefits.