Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?
WebMD gets the low down on artificial sweeteners on the shelves and in the pipeline.
The Saccharin Saga continued...
"The cancer risks are not something that an individual person should
worry about," CSPI's Jacobson says. "It's more a risk for the
government as the potential problems occur when millions of people consume the
sweeteners for years," he tells WebMD.
But cancer risk may not be the only safety concern with these artificial
"My overlying feeling is that artificial sweeteners are safe," says
ACSH's Kava. "The only caveat is asparatame in people with a rare disorder
known as phenylketonuria (PKU), who are unable to metabolize phenylalanine. PKU
is detected at birth through a mandatory screening program.
Jacobson adds that in the short term, some people develop headaches after consuming foods sweetened with
As far as short-term effects, sugar alcohols -- technically not considered
artificial -- can cause bloating and diarrhea in some people and the effect may occur with as
little as 50 grams of sugar alcohol. These sweeteners include sorbitol.
Lactitol and mannitol are lower in calories than sugar, don't promote tooth
decay, or cause an increase in blood sugars, according to the FDA.
Some of these "can cause powerful diarrhea and people ought to pay some
attention to that," CSPI's Jacobson says.
The key is really to know your body and your limits, Roxland adds.
"Sometimes it says right on the package that 'excess consumption may have a
laxative effect' but does that mean two Velamints will give you the runs?"
she says. "I have known some people who eat two pieces of gum and have the
worst diarrhea and others who chew a whole pack and are fine," she
Overdosing on Equal?
As far as nonsugar alcohol sweeteners, Roxland does not see a tremendous
potential for overdose. "Even if a person binges on low-calorie Fudgesicles
or Creamsicles, as long as their diet is otherwise healthy, there is no
downside because they would probably be bingeing on something a lot worse,"
One thing is clear, consumers embrace these sweeteners. As many as 180
million Americans routinely eat and drink sugar-free products such as desserts
and artificially sweetened sodas, according to 2004 statistics compiled by the
Calorie Control Council, and with new products in the pipeline and on the
shelves, the trend shows no sign of abating.
The newest artificial sweetener on the block is sucralose (SPLENDA). It is
not affected by heat and retains its sweetness in hot beverages, baked goods,
and processed foods. This has some advantages, Roxland says. "Nutrasweet
can't be stored for long periods and you can't cook with it, but Splenda is
heat stable so you can use it in cooking."
There are others in the pike including alitame (brand name Aclame™), which
is 2,000 times sweeter than sucrose. A petition for its use in a broad range of
foods and beverages has been filed in the U.S.