Artificial Sweeteners (cont.)

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Saccharin: What are the cons?

The safety concerns of consuming products with saccharin remain even with the removal of the warning. According to a report written in 1997 by the Center for the Science in Public Interest (CSPI) in response to the National Toxicology Program (NTP) removing saccharin from the list of potential carcinogens, "It would be highly imprudent for the NTP to delist saccharin. Doing so would give the public a false sense of security, remove any incentive for further testing, and result in greater exposure to this probable carcinogen in tens of millions of people, including children (indeed, fetuses). If saccharin is even a weak carcinogen, this unnecessary additive would pose an intolerable risk to the public. Thus, we urge the NTP on the basis of currently available data to conclude that saccharin is 'reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen' because there is 'sufficient' evidence of carcinogenicity in animals (multiple sites in rats and mice) and 'limited' or 'sufficient' evidence of carcinogenicity in humans (bladder cancer) and not to delist saccharin, at least until a great deal of further research is conducted."

Another possible danger of saccharin is the possibility of allergic reactions. The reaction would be in response to it belonging to a class of compounds known as sulfonamides, which can cause allergic reactions in individuals who cannot tolerate sulfa drugs. Reactions can include headaches, breathing difficulties, skin eruptions, and diarrhea. It's also believed that the saccharin found in some infant formulas and can cause irritability and muscle dysfunction. For these reasons, many people still believe that the use of saccharin should be limited in infants, children, and pregnant women. Without research to support these claims, the FDA has not imposed any limitations.

Aspartame: What are the pros?

Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by a scientist trying to make new ulcer drugs and approved by the FDA in 1981 for dry uses in tabletop sweeteners, chewing gum, cold breakfast cereals, gelatins, and puddings. It was able to be included in carbonated beverages in 1983. In 1996, the FDA approved its use as a "general purpose sweetener," and it can now be found in more than 6,000 foods.

Aspartame is also known as Nutrasweet, Equal, and Sugar Twin. It does provide calories, but because it is 160 to 220 times sweeter than sucrose, very small amounts are needed for sweetening so the caloric intake is negligible. The FDA has set the acceptable daily intake (ADI) for aspartame at 50 mg/kg of body weight. To determine your ADI, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 and then multiply it by 50. For example, if you weigh 200 lbs., your weight in kg would be 91 (200 divided by 2.2) and your ADI for aspartame would be 4550 mg (50 x 91). Here is the amount of aspartame in some common foods:

  • 12 oz. diet soda - up to 225 mg of aspartame
  • 8 oz. drink from powder - 100 mg of aspartame
  • 8 oz. yogurt - 80 mg of aspartame
  • 4 oz. gelatin dessert - 80 mg of aspartame
  • ¾ cup of sweetened cereal -- 32 mg of aspartame
  • 1 packet of Equal - 22 mg of aspartame
  • 1 tablet of Equal - 19 mg of aspartame

Aspartame has been approved for use in over 100 countries. An editorial in the British Medical Journal states that the "evidence does not support links between aspartame and cancer, hair loss, depression, dementia, behavioral disturbances, or any of the other conditions appearing in web sites. Agencies such as the Food Standards Agency, European Food Standards Authority, and the Food and Drug Administration have a duty to monitor relations between foodstuffs and health and to commission research when reasonable doubt emerges. Aspartame's safety was convincing to the European Scientific Committee on Food in 1988, but proving negatives is difficult, and it is even harder to persuade vocal sectors of the public whose opinions are fuelled more by anecdote than by evidence. The Food Standards Agency takes public concerns very seriously and thus pressed the European Scientific Committee on Food to conduct a further review, encompassing over 500 reports in 2002. It concluded from biochemical, clinical, and behavioral research that the acceptable daily intake of 40 mg/kg/day of aspartame remained entirely safe -- except for people with phenylketonuria."

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/16/2014

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