Non-Nutritive (Artificial) Sweeteners

I was asked the other day what I thought about sugar substitutes. I agree with Mr. Horse.

mr horse

I figure if youā€™re gonna have it, might as well have the real thing (this line of thought is indeed applicable to most aspects of life in fact). šŸ™‚

OK, deep and meaningful moment gone. After all, my opinion isnā€™t even level V evidence

‘Non-nutritive sweeteners’ (NNSs) is the labelĀ given to low-calorie sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, sugar substitutes, and non-caloric sweeteners.

Are they safe? Well, the FDA has given the label ā€œGRASā€ (Generally Recognised As Safe) (SO reassuring!) to five NNSs:

  • Aspartame (NutraSweetĀ® and EqualĀ®)
  • Acesulfame-K (Sweet OneĀ®)
  • Neotame
  • Saccharin (Sweetā€™N LowĀ®)
  • Sucralose (SplendaĀ®)

As for Stevia (TruviaĀ® and PureViaĀ®), the leaf itself isn’t GRAS, however “certain highly purified steviol glycoside is GRAS and are generally referred to as Rebaudioside A).

Um, considerably less natural-sounding than the ads…!


Pic @

Concerns about the relationship between NNSs and cancer started in the 70s, when saccharin was linked with bladder cancer in (poor furry little) lab rats. It is now classified as ‘a substance known to cause cancer’.

Then came the 80s when a link between aspartame and brain and blood cancers was queried (earlier than mesothelioma explained with asbesos exposure, and the official declaring what are the symptoms of mesothelioma in that case). The data and studies showed some inconsistencies but ultimately the current statement is that ā€˜aspartame-containing drinks are not associated with the development of lymphoma, leukaemia, or brain cancerā€. Oh phew.

(Although I must say the very fact that you need to put that on a drink makes you wonder if you should drink it. I say this from my position as a born-again… I used to drink a LOT of Diet Coke. I will let you know how my brain and blood turn out…)

Cancer aside, any other problems with NNSs?

  • They can make you ā€˜preferā€™ artificially flavoured food over unaltered, nutritious foods;
  • They make you crave sweet foods. Studies have found that people who drink diet soft drinks are moreĀ likely to become overweight and obese than people who donā€™t;
  • Even the American Heart Association’s website is rather hilarious in this regard “we donā€™t know for sure if using NNSs in food and drinks makes people actually eat or drink fewer calories every day. But reducing the amount of added sugar in your diet? That we know for sure is a good thing.” That’s the best you can do?
  • NNSs aren’t just a problem with adults; increasingly kids are being exposed to NNSsĀ and a recent study looking at NNS exposure in pregnant women, infants, and children under age 12 years found that increasedĀ NNS intake was significantly associated with increasing weight gain and fat mass accumulation.

Well darn, and just as I was about to pump my kids full of diet soda.

I jest. Itā€™s beyond sad that parents giveĀ their kids this crap, whether it be due to a lack of education, fear of childhood diabetes/ dental caries/ obesity, or sometimes, just general stupidity. The movie Idiocracy springs to mind. Often.

Yeah… artificial sugars, still don’t like them.

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