Artificial Sweeteners

  • Author:
    Betty Kovacs Harbolic, MS, RD

    Betty is a Registered Dietitian who earned her B.S. degree in Food and Nutrition from Marymount College of Fordham University and her M.S. degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She is the Co-Director and Director of nutrition for the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Can everyone consume artificial sweeteners?

It can be difficult to determine if there will be any long-term health problems if you consume artificial sweeteners during pregnancy or during childhood. None of the manufacturers say that you can't consume them, but none of them have long-term studies that prove that it is safe to do so.

Pregnancy is a time when every bite and sip that a woman takes really matters. There have been studies in rats that show when life span exposure to artificial sweeteners begins during fetal life, its carcinogenic effects are increased. The Danish National Birth Cohort is a study of 59,334 women conducted from 1996 to 2002. They found that daily intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks may increase preterm delivery.

There are numerous studies that show the negative health consequences of diets high in sugar for children. Many measures are being taken to help decrease the amount of sugar that children consume. This means that many people are turning to artificially sweetened foods and beverages for a child's sweet tooth. Unfortunately, there are no studies on the effects of these sweeteners and possible long-term consequences of children consuming them.

When possible, it's best for pregnant women and children to avoid artificial sweeteners. If they are used, they should be used in moderation. It's always important to weigh the overall health benefits when choosing foods and beverages. Consult your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about this.

Is it safe to blend artificial sweeteners?

Many people have a preference for a specific sweetener without realizing that numerous products now contain combinations of nutritive and/or nonnutritive sweeteners. The following are three key advantages for these sweetener blends:

  • Taste: The major limitation to the use of saccharin is its bitter aftertaste. Combining saccharin with other sweeteners helps alleviate this problem.
  • Cost: Using combinations of nonnutritive sweeteners can result in a sweeter taste with less sweeteners, saving companies money.
  • Flexibility: The ability to combine nonnutritive and nutritive sweeteners can offer people low-calorie choices, along with the no-calorie ones.

The blending of sweeteners is presenting a whole new set of problems. Research has not been done, and is not required to be done, on combinations of sweeteners. There is no way to know what happens to the chemicals once they are combined in the products or how they are processed in our bodies in that combination. This is an unnecessary risk that is being taken. The proper procedure would be to require thorough, credible studies on the safety of these combinations before allowing them into our food and medicine. While it would take time and money to conduct these tests, it's clearly a case where it's better to be safe than sorry.

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