Artificial sweeteners – friend or foe?
There has been a lot of press and confusion about the role and safety of artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are used to provide sweetness while containing little to no calories. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), highly regulates all artificial sweeteners giving them an acceptable daily intake (ADI) value. For example, the ADI for aspartame, a 70kg adult would have to consume over 5 litres of Diet Coke everyday over a lifetime.Artificial sweeteners are not recommended for children under three years old.
With the pressure on the food industry to reformulate and reduce the amount of sugar in our foods, they are appearing more often and we are consuming more of them. They are used in a huge variety of products such as: diet soft drinks, jellies, yoghurts, desserts, chewing gum, sweets, I’ve even found then in digestive biscuits!
So, what are the concerns? Although swapping sugars for sweeteners reduces calorie intake, and has benefits for our dental health, there are concerns that sweeteners may interfere with our metabolism and even increase our appetite. There have been other concerns that sweeteners can alter gut bacteria which may be harmful. This has mainly been found in animal studies and the results of human studies have been mixed. Other studies have found that changes in our gut bacteria can be been linked to our weight and overall health, so it is possible that sweeteners may promote weight gain via changes to our gut bacteria. What is clear is that more human trials are needed to test this, and the EFSA have decided to review all sweeteners.
I would argue that we need to exercise the ‘precautionary principle’ here, before we see the evidence from better, bigger and longer-term studies on artificial sweeteners use, to find out for sure their benefits and risks. The best way to avoid problems associated with sugar, and artificial sweeteners is to slowly reduce them in your diet and your taste buds will adapt. Do not underestimate the ability of your body to adjust.