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Who’s Your Sugar, Baby?

Most Americans eat the equivalent of 22 teaspoons, approximately 350 calories, of sugar a day.  For those who are trying to lose weight or must watch their blood sugar as with diabetes, too much sugar can be a problem.  As I mentioned last week, there is a LOT of research out there regarding the Pros and Cons of artificial sweeteners.  There is too much to cover comprehensively in a blog article, but I’ll try to compile a review of a few of the key concerns:

Cancer Potential

Artificial sweeteners have been tested for associations with lymphoma and other cancers, including bladder, breast, pancreatic, stomach, colon, and endometrium, with no significant correlations found.  One observational study found a weak link between artificial sweetener consumption and development of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma in men, but not in women. The study authors concluded that due to the inconsistency in their results, they could not correlate use of sweeteners to cancer risk.  Based on the evidence, it seems that artificial sweeteners are not a huge risk factor for cancer, although the possibility cannot be ruled out and caution is warranted.

Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Metabolic Syndrome

Artificial sweeteners have been increasingly tied to increased risk for developing metabolic syndrome and related diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Numerous observational studies have attempted to parse out a consistent association with disease risk, but for every study that has linked artificial sweetener consumption with metabolic syndrome, heart disease, or diabetes, there is another that has found no association.

This inconsistency shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the inherent limitations of observational evidence, but because there is little to no clinical evidence in humans to test these hypotheses, the effect of artificial sweeteners on risk for these diseases remains inconclusive.

Weight Loss

For most people, the primary motivation for consuming artificial sweeteners is a desire to reduce calorie consumption and lose weight, but the evidence is mixed. Many observational studies have found a positive association between artificial sweetener intake and obesity, but the reverse may also be likely, but only over a short period.  Despite some successful short-term weight loss studies, I don’t think the potential therapeutic effects of artificial sweeteners have been demonstrated clearly enough thus far to warrant widespread consumption, especially given the conflicting links with disease risk and the questionable influence on appetite regulation and weight control.

Ultimately, while artificial sweeteners are perhaps not as scary as some might believe, I don’t recommend including them in your diet regularly.  I have personally found that people get dependent on that extreme “sweet taste” that sweeteners offer, so it then becomes difficult to cut them out of your diet.  People often rationalize that since they are having a “diet drink” or a beverage not sweetened with sugar, then it’s okay to eat more, or have the dessert, or “super-size” their food order, all things that inevitably lead to MORE calories and weight GAIN, not weight loss.  Artificial sweeteners are often found to cause headaches or trigger migraines also, and who wants that?  As for me, water remains my beverage of choice, but if I wish to sweeten a drink, I have personally shied away from artificial sweeteners and have moved toward more NATURAL sweetening options.

Even with all the bad press, the FDA has not been swayed by this information, and artificial sweeteners continue to stay on the shelves. The health problems reported have yet to be shown in large-scale human research, and to date there is no evidence supporting a connection between consumption of artificial sweeteners and disease.  So, in the end, the choice is yours, but I hope the past few articles have given you information you find useful in making your decision.

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