What are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are used to replace sugar generally because they are low calorie or contain no calories, so impart no calories to the food or the drink that they’re added to. There’s a couple of ways that this is possible. Artificial sweeteners are much, much sweeter than sugar, so only a very small amount needs to be added to give the same sweetness that you would perhaps get from adding sugar. Also, they’re not actually metabolized and absorbed by the human body, so they are able to move through the body without contributing any NGO calories.
Types of Artificial Sweeteners
There’s a lot of different types of artificial sweetness. One of the main ones that you’ve probably heard of are aspartame, which is commonly known as Equal. You’ll find this it in products such as Coke Zero, sugar-free gums, and sugar-free Red Bull. Aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar.
Then there’s also sucralose, which is commonly known as Splenda, and it is 600 times sweeter than sugar.
Are they safe?
The really important thing to know is that artificial sweetness undergo a really thorough, extensive safety assessment before they’re actually used in food and drinks. So it’s actually really hard to get sweeteners into the food system. There needs to be firstly a really good purpose for their use, and they need to be proven to be safe at the level that they’re likely to be consumed by people.
The process involves our governing food standards body putting together a report in which they pull a lot of studies and they find a dose where there is no observable adverse effect or no observable negative effect found for each sweetener that they’re looking at. These studies that they’re pulling together are predominantly animal in nature, often rats, and they’re often conducted using really high concentrations of the sweeteners, so much higher than people are ever going to consume.
Once they find a dose that they’re confident has no negative effect, then they divide that dose by a hundred to find a level that they think is safe and it’s called an acceptable daily intake level. This then becomes the maximum they recommend that you should consume.
So what does it all mean?
To put that into practice, Diet Coke contains artificial sweetener aspartame, and aspartame has an acceptable daily intake of up to 40 milligrams per kilogram per day. So what this means is that a 70 kilogram person could have 2.8 grams per day. What this would look like would be 15 and a half cans of Diet Coke. We’re not suggesting that you do this, but if you did drink the 15 and a half cans, you’d still be a hundred times below the level when no negative effect was actually found!
So, artificial sweetness are not going to harm you and certainly not if you’re including them a few times a week or less. There’s no kind of evidence to suggest that they cause cancer or weight gain or actually affect your gut microbiome or all those bacteria that live in there, in a negative way.
So, at the end of the day, you make the choice about whether you want to include artificial sweeteners in your diet or not, but there’s no need to be scared of them.
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