Many of us have a sweet tooth. In some cases that comes with a tendency to gain weight. Related? Maybe so. In desperation, we often replace sugar-sweetened foods and beverages with artificially-sweetened equivalents. That’s better for us, right? Well, possibly, but possibly not.
There’s the pink packets, the blue packet, the yellow packet. We all have our favorite. Various ways to get the sweetness we crave without the calories we hate. Each of these artificial sweeteners fools our taste buds into reporting a sweet taste, why contributing nearly nothing to our daily calorie intake.
Saccharin started the parade of bad news about artificial sweeteners back in the 70s when it was linked to cancer in lab rats. Clearly, lab rats should not drink diet sodas. Nonetheless, saccharin was labeled a carcinogen and banned in the U.S. as a result.
In reasonable quantities, it seems that the current crop of artificial sweeteners is safe, at least as safe as everything else we eat. Like most things, too much of an artificial sweetener can be a bad thing. Some of these “bad things” are just a nuisance, like eating too much sorbitol (common in sugar-free candy) can lead to bloating and diarrhea.
There is also the working theory that using artificial sweeteners can confuse our bodies. The theory postulates that our bodies get used to tasting sweet things that don’t require the secretion of insulin for digestion. Then, when we actually eat naturally sweet (and caloric) foods, we don’t produce enough insulin, triggering fat deposits. It’s an interesting theory and some small studies seem to support it, but there’s a lot more science required before it receives main stream acceptance.
So if too much artificial sweetener is bad for you, how much is too much? It turns out that the level of ingestion that the FDA considers dangerous is so extreme that nobody will reach that level without other, more serious, issues. Think 20 cans of soda or 100 cups of coffee in a day. You’d wear out the door to your bathroom before the sweetener’s effects were an issue.
What really matters is eating a balanced diet, overall. If you follow the new “plate” model for proper meal planning, an artificially-sweetened soda in the afternoon isn’t going to be a problem.