Artificial Sugar: Types, Uses, & Issues

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Artificial Sugar is a kind of food additive that tastes sweet like sugar but has way fewer calories, making it a zero-calorie or low-calorie sweetener. These substitutes can be made from plant extracts or chemicals.

  • They come in various forms like pills, powders, and packets.
  • Some common examples are aspartame, monk fruit extract, saccharin, sucralose, stevia, acesulfame potassium (ace-k), and cyclamate.
  • These substitutes are often used in diet drinks to add sweetness without adding calories. They are considered safe to use and can help manage blood glucose and weight when used in moderation.

Different types of Artificial Sugar

High-intensity sweeteners are much sweeter than regular sugar, so we only need a small amount to get the same sweetness. They can be made from plant extracts or chemicals and are often used in mixtures to create intense sweetness.

Aspartame: Aspartame was discovered accidentally in 1965 by a scientist working on an anti-ulcer drug. It’s a sweetener made from two amino acids and is about 180-200 times sweeter than sugar.

It is commonly used as a tabletop sweetener, in frozen desserts, beverages, and chewing gum. It breaks down when heated, so it’s not ideal for baking. Many studies have confirmed its safety for human consumption, and over 100 regulatory agencies worldwide have approved it.
Cyclamate: Cyclamate was banned in the US in 1969 after rat tests showed a potential link to bladder cancer. However, this evidence is considered weak, and cyclamate is still used in many countries like Canada, the European Union, and Russia.
Mogrosides (Monk Fruit): Mogrosides are extracted from monk fruit. They are considered safe for consumption and used in products globally. In some regions, it’s not allowed as a permitted sweetener, but it can be used as a flavoring.
Saccharin: Saccharin is an artificial sweetener discovered in 1879 by accident. It is 300 to 500 times sweeter than sugar and is used in toothpaste, dietary foods, and drinks to improve their taste.

Concerns about saccharin’s safety arose in the 1960s when a study showed it could cause bladder cancer in rats. However, later research revealed that the mechanism causing cancer in rats doesn’t apply to humans.

Uses of Artificial Sugar

Sugar Substitutes are used for Various Reasons:

  • Dental care: Unlike sugar, sugar substitutes don’t stick to tooth enamel and cause decay. Xylitol is a sweetener that may benefit dental health as it prevents bacteria from sticking to teeth and forming plaque.
  • Dietary concerns: Sugar substitutes are used in diet drinks to sweeten them without adding calories. Some sugar alcohols like erythritol, xylitol, and sorbitol are derived from sugars.
  • Glucose metabolism: People with diabetes use artificial sweeteners to avoid spikes in blood glucose levels. However, excessive consumption of sugar substitutes may increase the risk of developing diabetes.
  • Reactive hypoglycemia: Individuals with reactive hypoglycemia avoid high-glycemic foods and use artificial sweeteners to satisfy their sweetness cravings without affecting blood glucose levels.
  • Cost and shelf-life: Sugar substitutes are cheaper than sugar in many food products and have a longer shelf life, making them suitable for products with a longer shelf life.
  • Acceptable daily intake levels: The FDA provides guidance on daily limits for consuming high-intensity sweeteners to ensure their safe use.
  • Mouthfeel: Sugar substitutes may require bulking agents to maintain the desired texture in some products like soft drinks or sweet teas labeled as “diet” or “light.”

Issues Related to Artificial Sugar

They also known as artificial sweeteners, have been a subject of debate and scrutiny due to various concerns. Some of the main issues include:

  • Health Concerns: There have been concerns about the potential health effects of long-term consumption of artificial sweeteners. Some studies have linked certain artificial sugars to health issues such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and potential metabolic disturbances.
  • Weight Management: Paradoxically, some research has suggested that the use of these sugars may not necessarily lead to weight loss or improved weight management. Some studies have even suggested that they might contribute to weight gain by affecting appetite and cravings for sweet foods.
  • Taste and Aftertaste: It can have a different taste compared to natural sugar, and some people may find their aftertaste unpleasant.
  • Safety and Regulatory Approval: Despite being approved for consumption by regulatory agencies in many countries, some people remain skeptical about the long-term safety of artificial sugars, especially when consumed in large quantities.
  • Impact on Gut Microbiota: Emerging research suggests that certain artificial sugars may have an impact on the gut microbiota, potentially altering the balance of beneficial bacteria in the digestive system.
  • Dependency and Cravings: Some argue that regular consumption of these types of sugars might lead to increased cravings for sweet foods, making it harder to break the habit of consuming sugary treats.
  • Impact on Blood Sugar and Insulin: Although these sugars are generally considered safe for people with diabetes, there is some debate about their impact on blood sugar levels and insulin responses in certain individuals.

Conclusion

Sugar substitutes serve various purposes, from dental care to dietary concerns. They offer benefits like reducing tooth decay and providing sweetness without adding calories. However, there are concerns about their long-term health effects, potential impact on weight management, taste differences, and impact on gut health.

Safety and regulatory approval vary in different regions. While they can be helpful for people with diabetes and reactive hypoglycemia, excessive consumption should be avoided. Moderation and awareness of individual responses are essential when using artificial sugars. Consulting healthcare professionals can aid in making informed dietary choices for overall well-being.

FAQs

What are examples of artificial sugars?

Examples include aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, and acesulfame potassium.

Which artificial sugars should be avoided?

Artificial sugars to avoid are those that may cause adverse reactions or have potential health risks for some individuals. For example, people with phenylketonuria should avoid aspartame due to its phenylalanine content.

What is artificial sugar made of?

Artificial sugar is typically made from chemical processes that modify natural sugars like glucose, fructose, or lactose.

What is the safest artificial sugar?

Stevia is often considered one of the safest artificial sugars, as it is derived from a natural plant source and has fewer reported side effects. However, individual responses may vary, so moderation is key.

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