Artificial Sweeteners: Myths Debunked

You want to cut calories and lose weight, and you know one way to do that is to reduce your sugar intake and opt for drinks and foods that contain artificial, low- or no-calorie sweeteners. Yet some people believe these are dangerous and may even lead to sugar cravings and weight gain later on. So how do we find a balance between satisfying a sweet tooth and staying healthy? We turned to New York City nutritionist, Tanya Zuckerbrot, creator of The F-Factor Diet, for some guidance. Moderation, it turns out, is the key.

Myth: Artificial sweeteners cause cancer

Truth: “According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the United States cause any health problems,” Zuckerbrot says. “When choosing an artificial sweetener, stick to those that have received the FDA's GRAS (generally recognized as safe) approval. The sweetener's that appear on that list are: Aspartame: Equal, Nutrasweet; Saccharin: Sweet 'N Low; Sucralose: Splenda; and Stevia: Stevia, Stevia Extract.”

Myth: Artificial sweeteners don't add any health benefits

Truth: “Some sweeteners provide additional nutritional benefits aside from cutting calories. For example, Splenda essentials provide sweeteners with a nutritional punch, such as 1 gram of fiber added per packet, B vitamins or antioxidants,” she says. “Most Americans do not even come close to consuming the recommended 25 to 35 grams fiber a day. A fiber-rich diet not only helps you lose weight, but is loaded with additional health benefits.”

Myth: Artificial sweeteners help control my sweet tooth

Truth: “Since artificial sweeteners range from 200-1,300 times sweeter than sugar, you are actually giving yourself much more of a sweet tooth,” Zuckerbrot says. “You are numbing your taste buds and relying on foods and beverages to be much sweeter. This is like having a sugar addiction and becoming unsatisfied when you don't get the sweet you need. And let's face it, when you are craving sweets all the time you are eventually going to give in to temptations (binging on cookies or candy-loss of control basically).”

Myth: Diet sodas sweetened with artificial sweeteners will help me lose weight

Truth: “A recent study conducted at the University of Texas found that people who drink diet soft drinks don't lose weight. In fact, they gain weight,” Zuckerbrot says. “The surprising part is that those who drink diet-soft drinks have a 10 percent greater risk of becoming obese than those who drink regular soft-drinks. A possible explanation is that individuals tend to overcompensate when they chose a diet beverage. We've all heard someone order a Big Mac, fries and a Diet Coke!”

Myth: Regular sugar is better than artificial sweeteners

Truth: “In a society where serving sizes have become incredibly skewed, artificial sweeteners provide a safe alternative to sugar, which has exploded in the diets of many Americans,” she says. “A teaspoon of sugar has only 16 calories, however a 12-ounce bottle of regular soda contains 8 teaspoons, or an additional 128 calories! For someone trying to control their weight, or a diabetic individual, an artificial sweetener is the way to go.”

*Editor's note: There was a recent update to this post regarding the amount of calories in a teaspoon of sugar.

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