We have written about sugar substitutes in the Food Facts Blog in the past, and it’s time to revisit this important topic. The sugar substitute industry in the United States is huge, but not without controversy. Consumers are concerned and want to know if the sugar substitutes they are using are safe to consume.
Let’s examine this briefly. A sugar substitute, or artificial sweetener, is a food additive which duplicates the effect of sugar or corn syrup in taste, but offers less food energy (calories). The dietary habits and trends have led many of us to sweet, non caloric substances, and their use has spread in the last few years. These sugar substitutes are considered to be ideal by many people as a means to control diverse metabolic disorders originated or aggravated by the ingestion of sugar, including as diabetes, obesity and arteriosclerosis. Further, the advantages of these substances are enormous, since they can replace sugar and also provide quick re-absorption components, making food more tempting without the extra calories of sugar.
The reason why the food and beverage industry is increasingly replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners in a range of products traditionally containing sugar, is actually simple. Although the profit margins on artificial sweeteners are extremely low for manufacturers, they still cost the food industry just a fraction of the cost of sugar and corn syru, which once was introduced by the industry as a low-cost alternative to sugar. In Britain, for example, it is now almost impossible to find any non-cola soft drinks in supermarkets which are not sweetened with artificial sweeteners, and a variety of side foods, like ketchups, mustards and mayonnaise are artificially sweetened.
As early as 1969, many stories were heard in relation to the dangers associated with sugar substitutes for human health, and many of these reports centered around carcinogenic reactions. Between 2000 and 2005, however, a total of 3,920 products containing artificial sweeteners were launched. But the problem began in the 60′s when, in certain experiments with laboratory animals, the excessive dose that was issued to them daily generated disease in their bladder. Even though this was an experiment and the dose issues to the laboratory animals was completely disproportionate, it was 10,000 times higher than the dose an average person would take in a year’s time, the scientific community and many of the sugar substitute consumers have been alarmed.
But regardless of the ongoing controversy over the supposed health risks of artificial sweeteners, doctors support that nothing is completely harmless to people, but everything depends on the quantity and the sensitivity of the subject, as well as on the time period of the dose.” Thus, consumers should be informed that in the sugar market, an extremely powerful industry around the globe, economic interests are at play. Even if the results of the scientific studies are real or false, sweet food producers are always after their substitute competitors and as statistics have shown a number of health issues caused by tobacco, alcohol or sugar consumption, were attributed to market competition. Similarly, the introduction of Aspartame in the U.S. was delayed for several years even though this sugar substitute is completely innocuous, since it consists of only two strictly natural amino acids.
Among the more popular artificial sweeteners are aspartame, saccharin and the brand known as Splenda. There are also natural alternatives to sugar that have been discussed extensively lately, including Stevia and sorbitol.
As far as which sugar substitutes are better, the jury is still out. There are new and promising reports about some of the more “natural” sugar substitutes, but the consumer should always conduct thorough and independent research to be aware of these products.