Talk with the Doc: Update on sugar substitutes

Dr. Jim Surrell, Journal columnist

Today, let’s take another look at the true science regarding sugar substitutes. There are still are some concerns on the part of many people about the safety of the numerous sugar substitutes readily available in many beverages and food products today. If you have any health concerns about the various sugar substitutes readily available today, please review the following.

After a careful review of the many scientific studies available regarding sugar substitutes, the claims that they cause any health problems at all are shown to be completely untrue, and they have no basis in scientific fact. My very strong opinion about these products is based on a thorough and careful review of these numerous scientific studies. Please note the very well researched findings of the noted National Cancer Institute in the following statement from the Mayo Clinic website. “According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no sound scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the United States cause cancer or other serious health problems.” Now, let’s take a look at the most popular sugar substitutes.

SACCHARIN (Sweet’n Low brand, & others) – Discovered in 1878, saccharin has been around for over 140 years! It was used during both World War I and World War II to sweeten foods, helping to compensate for sugar shortages and rationing. Even with this very long-term usage, no health problems have ever been demonstrated from this product. The American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Dietetic Association all agree that saccharin use is safe.

ASPARTAME (NutraSweet, Equal & other brands) – Approved in 1981, this is one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives in history. The FDA has thoroughly reviewed more than 100 toxicological and clinical studies and they all confirm the safety of aspartame. This in-depth review of these many scientific studies confirms that aspartame is very safe for the general population. One uncommon side effect from aspartame is that it may cause headaches in a small number of people. If one does note a headache, possibly from consuming aspartame, then I would recommend using any of the other readily available sugar substitutes noted here.

SUCRALOSE (Splenda brand) – This product tastes like sugar because it is made from sugar. After reviewing more than 110 animal and human safety studies conducted over 20 years, the FDA approved it in 1998 as a tabletop sweetener. In 2006, the FDA amended its regulation to allow Splenda as a general-purpose sweetener for all foods. Splenda is very safe and much safer and healthier than refined sugar.

STEVIA (Truvia) – This is a sweet tasting naturally occurring plant leaf that is a member of the sunflower family. Multiple world-wide studies have shown absolutely no negative health effects from stevia.

SUGAR ALCOHOLS – Four sugar alcohols commonly used today are (1) maltitol, (2) xylitol, (3) sorbitol, and (4) mannitol. These are naturally occurring substances found in plants. They taste sweet, but they are not completely absorbed by the body. Therefore, unlike refined sugar, sugar alcohols are not stored as fat, have little impact on blood sugar levels, do not result in elevated blood cholesterol, and therefore are very healthy sugar substitutes.

Compare the proven safety of sugar substitutes noted above to the fact that excess dietary refined sugar often leads to the following health issues: 1) excess body weight and obesity, 2) high cholesterol, 3) high blood pressure, 4) Type 2 diabetes, and 5) now recently reported to increase dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. My choice is to use the sugar substitutes over sugar every time. What’s your choice?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Jim Surrell is the author of “The ABC’s For Success In All We Do” and the “SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet” books.Contact Dr. Surrell by email at sosdietdoc@gmail.com.


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