At some level, we know artificial sweeteners are bad for us. Although most studies have concluded they are safe, new and emerging studies demonstrating the risks associated with consuming them are growing in number. Some act as neurotoxins. Others disrupt the endocrine system. How, then, are companies allowed to put these compounds in their products? Why hasn’t the FDA stopped them?
The FDA considers artificial sweeteners safe at low doses.
The FDA has approved several artificial sweeteners because they are deemed safe in low doses. As their evidence for these compounds’ safety, they point to studies that do show artificial sweeteners to be safe so long as they are consumed below a certain threshold. What the FDA did not account for, however, is the fact that once the compounds received their approval, food producers and manufacturers all began putting them in their products—from diet sodas to cereal bars to most dietary supplements. This means that the average consumer who eats any combination of these products will undoubtedly consume too much because one single product tends to have the upper limit of the sweetener allowed by the FDA.
Diet sodas and pre-packaged products aside, the worst culprit for including high doses of artificial sweeteners are dietary supplements. Sure, protein powder on its own tastes terrible, but adding gobs of sugar to it is counter-productive. It’s no surprise that to make their products palatable, supplement companies have turned to every kind of sweetener allowed.
If you consume more than one serving, you are over the safe limit.
To reiterate, one product’s serving will generally tend to include the upper limit of what’s allowed by the FDA. Therefore, if you consume several servings of a particular product, such as protein powder, amino acids, pre and post workout mixes, among others, then you are very likely consuming far above the safe amount of artificial sweeteners.
Consuming too much of an artificial sweetener can do some serious damage to the human body.
There are five sweeteners approved by the FDA. They are, with their potential risks:
- Aspartame – the sweetener with the highest marketshare, Aspartame is actually a neurotoxin at high enough doses. There are also concerns with cancer, as has been demonstrated in studies of mice over the last few decades.
- Acesulfame Potassium – a sweetener with 200x the sweetness of sugar, this is one of the supplement industry’s favorites for sprucing up fruity flavors. The problem? Some studies have reported a link to cancer and endocrine problems.
- Sucralose – first released on the market as a “wonder sweetener” called Splenda, sucralose has since raised concerns in studies on mice for its effect on metabolism and propensity to cause these mice to actually gain weight even though sucralose has no calories.
- Saccharin – the “Sweet N Low®” sweetener, saccharin has been linked to increased risk of bladder cancer in mice.
- Neotame and Advantame – these two related compounds are approved for general use, but have in the past raised concerns over their damaging effects on the immune system, reproductive system, and nervous system.
Best to avoid artificial sweeteners…where possible.
The key here is to make the conscious decision to avoid these compounds where possible. Several supplement companies now offer products not sweetened with artificial sweeteners, and these are still great tasting products. The advent of Stevia has also greatly helped in the quest to sweeten foods without adding calories. Stevia is derived from a plant, is all natural, and is as sweet as Aspartame or Acesulfame Potassium.
The FDA has a great page about the artificial sweeteners they have approved and why. But remember, it’s easy to overdo it in today’s fast-paced world of pre-packaged foods.