There’s widespread confusion about artificial sweeteners. That’s largely because of studies dating to the 1970s. But there’s no sound scientific evidence that any artificial sweeteners approved for use in the United States cause cancer in humans, according to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies. Extensive research on the safety of artificial sweeteners has found that using them in moderation doesn’t pose health concerns.
Artificial sweeteners, synthetic or highly refined sugar substitutes, can be found in many processed foods, including soft drinks, candy, jams, jellies, dairy products and baked goods.
Artificial sweeteners have virtually no calories. In contrast, 1 teaspoon of sugar has about 16 calories. That means a can of sweetened cola with 10 teaspoons of added sugar has about 160 calories.
If you’re trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain, products with artificial sweeteners may be an attractive option. It’s important to note, however, that their effectiveness for long-term weight loss isn’t clear.
Another benefit is that artificial sweeteners aren’t carbohydrates. So, unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners generally do not raise blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, talk to your doctor or a dietitian before you use products with artificial sweeteners.
A study published this year found that women who consistently drank two or more artificially sweetened beverages a day had a higher risk for stroke than women who drank those beverages less frequently or not at all. Although more research is needed, these findings point to the value of consuming artificially sweetened beverages in moderation.
It can be hard to pinpoint the exact amount of artificial sweeteners in your diet. Most companies don’t share the quantities of artificial sweeteners in products. In addition, artificial sweeteners are in products you might not expect, such as bran cereal.
If your goal is a more healthful diet, instead of eating processed foods with artificial sweeteners, choose whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables. And consider switching from artificially sweetened beverages to plain water. Your body needs the water, and there’s no question that it’s good for you.