I was reading a publication from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The term acesulfame potassium was linked with a product review they were doing. I was unfamiliar with the term and looked it up. Ironically, I had planned to do a blog today on artificial sweeteners as part of my series on processed food ingredients that you need to know about for your health. I’ll cover acesulfame potassium in detail a little later in this blog.
Our calorie conscious society had a need over 50 years ago for new sweeteners that did not add calories. Initially they were tied to weight loss since you could have something sweet without it affecting your diet. The field on nonnutritive sweeteners evolved. Paradoxically, the new field hit a brick wall in the 70s with fears of being connected to cancer. The big “C” always gets peoples’ attention. There has been a lot of testing to verify the links to cancer and the overall safety of these artificial sweeteners.
Saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose and neotame are FDA approved nonnutritive sweeteners. These products have been declared safe, stable during cooking and can be combined with artificial or natural sweeteners. An Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) has been established for each to ensure your life-time risk is minimized.
The best researched artificial sweetener is Saccharin (Sweet and Low, Sweet-Twin, Sweet’N Low, and Necta Sweet). Saccharin contains no calories and does not raise blood sugar levels. It is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar. Saccharin is considered to be the safest of the five approved FDA artificial sweeteners. Saccharin is used in tabletop sweeteners, baked goods, jams, canned fruit, dessert toppings, etc. The FDA proposed a ban on saccharin in 1977 because it was thought to be linked to bladder cancer in rats. The public caused Congress to intervene and the ban resulted in a warning label being added to the product. Further testing yielded no results linking bladder cancer in rats to humans. The National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health had enough evidence to have the warning removed from saccharin in 2000.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest wants the product labeled because they believe it is a weak carcinogenic and there is a hazard to the public. Some people are allergic to sulfonamides and saccharin is in that class of chemicals. Typical reactions are headaches, breathing difficulties, skin problems, and diarrhea. The FDA has concluded that not enough research has been done to demonstrate a link. If you have a concern, it might be prudent to limit saccharin from infants, children and pregnant women.
The FDA approved Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal and Sugar Twin) in 1981 for use in tabletop sweeteners, chewing gum, cereals, gelatins and puddings. A couple of years later carbonated beverages were added to the list. In the late 90s the FDA approved it for general use. Today aspartame can be found in more than 6000 foods in over 100 countries. Aspartame does contain a few calories and is around 200 times sweeter than sugar. Anecdotal evidence has caused headlines around the world that aspartame causes cancer, hair loss, depression, dementia, behavioral imbalance, etc. However, when over 500 reports were reviewed by the European Scientific Committee on Food, they could find no association of the symptoms mentioned above based on biochemical, clinical, and behavioral testing.
Aspartame has been one of the top controversial artificial sweeteners with over 80% of the complaints to the FDA. You can find lots of books, articles, stories and testing which strongly recommend that you do not use aspartame. Testing in the United States and other countries have not found any relationship between aspartame and cancer, specifically oral, pharynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, larynx, breast, ovary, prostate and renal cell. Investigators examined testing done on over 7000 men and women over 55 years of age and concluded there was nothing of any substance. The only listing that I could find limits usage of aspartame for people with phenylketonuria, commonly called PKU. PKU is an inherited syndrome that increases phenylalanine in your blood. Phenylalanine is an amino acid obtained through your diet. It is found in all proteins and in some artificial sweeteners. PKU can be extremely harmful if untreated causing significant health challenges.
One of the newest artificial sweetener to hit the market is Sucralose (Splenda). It is 600 times sweeter than sugar. It has next to zero calories and is not fully absorbed in your body. It is regarded as a general purpose sweetener and is found in nearly 5000 foods. Extensive testing has been done by the FDA and no linkages could be found to cancers, reproductive or neurological problems. Interestingly enough, sucralose was discovered while tying to create a new insecticide – don’t ask, but if you must then – sugar is treated with trityl chloride, acetic anhydride, hydrogen chorine, thionyl chloride and methanol with dimethylformamide, 4-methylmorpholine, toluene, methyl isobutyl ketone, acetic acid, benzyltriethlyammonium chloride and sodium methoxide. You start out with sugar and end up with a product that has a ‘sugar-like’ structure and a ‘sugar-like’ taste; however, it is far from natural sugar.
The product Splenda is sucralose combined with dextrose and maltodextrin. These extra products increase bulk, but they also add calories. People with diabetes should exercise caution when using Splenda. Some groups are upset with the naming of sucralose because it ends in ‘ose.’ They think it is misleading – too close to real sugar products. A chemist would have named it tricholorgalactosucrose. The FDA accepted the name sucralose. There is a concern for many that sucralose contains chlorine. No long-term studies have been done to determine any risks; conversely, some claims of bloating, gas, diarrhea, nausea, rashes, hives, itching, swelling, wheezing, coughing, chest pains, anxiety, anger, mood swings, depression, itchy eyes, etc. have been made.
Acesulfame potassium (also listed as acesulfame K, Ace-K and Sunett) is 200 times sweeter than sugar and is used in sweetening and preserving foods. Like sucralose, no long-term studies have been performed. Acesulfame potassium contains a known carcinogen, methylene chloride. Methylene chloride causes headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver defects, kidney defects, visual problems and cancer. The FDA has not required additional testing based on acesulfame potassium containing methylene chloride.
Neotame is an advanced version of aspartame that is safe for people without phenylalanine – so it is safe for those with PKU. Neotame is around 10,000 times sweeter than sugar. As with other newly introduced artificial sweeteners, neotame does not have long-term testing protocols.
Cyclamates are still banned or limited in usage in some countries today. They were developed in the 1930s as an artificial sweetener for use in commercial food manufacturing. They are 30 times sweeter than sugar. The FDA banned cyclamates in 1969. Additional research was done after the ban and it was removed in the 1980s.
Stevia is used as a sugar-free product, but it is a natural product derived from the leaves of the stevia plant. Alitame (Aclame) is 2000 times sweeter than sugar with no aftertaste common to aspartame. Alitame has a storage life twice aspartame, but saccharin and acesulfame potassium are more stable. Alitame does not contain phenylalanine and is safe for people with PKU. If you process aspartame and acesulfame potassium, the resulting new product is an aspartame-acesulfame salt which is 350 times sweeter than sugar. The last artificial sweetener for this blog is Neohesperidin dihydrochalcone (NHDC). NHDC is 1500 times sweeter than sugar and has some limitations in its use. It is approved outside the United States, but the FDA has not recognized it as generally safe, or approved for public use. Dulcin, Glucin, P-4000 are artificial sweeteners banned by the FDA several decades ago.
So where does this leave you – what choices do you have? Sucralose, acesulfame K, and saccharin can be used in cooking, but aspartame cannot. I mentioned Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) earlier in this blog. ADI is established to be one-hundredth of the amount necessary to be of any minimal concern. If you weigh 150 pounds, then you could drink 18 cans of diet cola sweetened with aspartame, 31 cans of diet soda sweetened with acesulfame K and 6 cans of diet soda sweetened with sucralose. Approximately one dozen packets of saccharin sweetener can be used daily and considered safe.
Whether it is sugar-free, sugar substitute, low calorie sweetener, nonnutritive, artificial, sugar alcohol, or natural sugar substitute, there is a lot of confusion over what is good for you. Just removing sugar doesn’t make it better. A few less calories give some people the logic to eat or drink more because there is no sugar present.
As with any health concern you might have, not everyone responds to the same product or same level of product. If you experience symptoms that affect your health, you have many choices, especially with artificial sweeteners.
Choices have consequences. Your Prosperity Professor, Red O’Laughlin