Sweeteners: Silent killers or hot air?

Sweeteners: Silent killers or hot air?

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Take the word 'artificial sweeteners' in your mouth and people look at you as if you are throwing all kinds of deadly diseases. When it comes to artificial sweeteners, a large part of the population agrees: research has shown that sweeteners such as aspartame entail all sorts of health risks and that is why it is better to simply choose old-fashioned sugar. When you then ask the person about the research in question, the conversation comes to a halt quickly. They once heard this and for that reason it is a truth, no further discussion possible.

Sweeteners are used to flavor food supplements and to prevent extra calories from being added to ensure maximum purity. In for example protein products sucralose and acesulfame-K are used. But natural sweeteners such as stevia are increasingly being used in our products. To prevent uncertainty and to reassure you as users about sweetener intake, we dive into this blog about research on the safety of artificial sweeteners!

Origin and species

Sweeteners are substances that are intended to make foods taste sweeter, just like sugar does. The major differences between sweeteners and sugar are the calorific value and the sweetening power.

Polyols are a category of sweeteners that are comparable to sugar in terms of sweetness, or are sometimes slightly less sweet. Polyols such as erythritol, xylitol and mannitol are from nature or are produced artificially. The advantage is that they only provide about half of the calories from sugar. This can make it easier to create an energy shortage and still eat well. This can eventually contribute to weight loss. A disadvantage of polyols is that they can be a burden on the gastrointestinal tract in large quantities. This allows them to cause diarrhea and gas. It is therefore advisable to test your tolerance by slowly building up and not suddenly filling your entire feeding schedule with polyols.

The bad guys

On the other hand, there are the intensive sweeteners, which mainly have the characteristic that they are many times sweeter than sugar. This sweetness varies from 30 to no less than 37.000 times as sweet as sugar. Many of these sweeteners, just like sugar, still provide a reasonable amount of calories per 100 grams. The unprecedented sweetness ensures that you use such a small amount that you do not have to take this into account. Examples of these intensive sweeteners are aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame-K and steviol glycosides (stevia).

Sweeteners are used in countless products, from chewing gum and throat sweets, to fruit drinks, cakes and dairy products. In addition, many sweeteners can also be obtained separately, although these are often mixed with, for example, maltodextrin. This event gives products the right to name the sweetener on the package, but this does not immediately make the product calorie-free. So pay attention to this!

Aspartame in particular has received much criticism in the past. For example, research [1] would have found that rats had a higher risk of developing cancer after administering aspartame. This data was translated directly into applications for humans. However, then the study was critically examined by external parties. It turned out that the rats were already sick in advance and that the development of cancer was not the result of aspartame consumption.

As you probably already realize, there is a lot of confusion around sweeteners. So can sweeteners hurt, or is there no reason to worry within the current recommended amounts? We look at what the research says!

Protein powder and weight discs


Conclusion about artificial sweeteners: The studies

Before we go into the core of this blog, namely the health effects, we first focus on another topic. You must have heard people say that sweeteners are nonsense. Often with the reason that, like sugar, they raise glucose levels and can miraculously cause weight gain.

This is a claim that must be very strongly questioned. Because how can a food that contains no energy (whether or not due to the small amount) still cause weight gain? Fortunately, Miller and Perez performed a meta-analysis [2] looking at all relevant research on sweeteners in relation to body weight and composition. The results were clear: body weight, BMI, fat mass and waist circumference decreased in the subjects who replaced sugar with artificial sweeteners. The conclusion that emerged from this was that replacing sugar with sweeteners can contribute to weight loss and improve obedience to a diet significantly.

Then we now move on to health ...

A systematic review was published in 2010 [3] which summarized all studies that focused on sweeteners in children. Children are normally already a more vulnerable target group, so if there were harmful effects, chances were that these would now come to light. However, no clear metabolic risks were found based on 18 studies.

The only thing that was found was that a higher consumption of calorie-free soft drinks was associated with obesity. For many people this would be a reason to shout: “You see! You also get fat from sweeteners! " But not so fast, correlation and causation are not the same things. The only thing this says is that people who often drink (calorie-free) soft drinks generally have a healthier lifestyle. People who do not drink this generally have a healthier lifestyle and diet as a whole. This does not mean that sweeteners make you fat, this is still due to a high energy intake!

End of story?

Another study [4] specifically investigated the carcinogenic (carcinogenic) effects of sweeteners. The conclusion was simple: based on current literature, the potential risk of artificial sweeteners to increase the risk of cancer is negligible. It was mentioned that many new sweeteners are being developed, the effects of which are still unknown. But, as with everything else, it must be constantly checked to pick out the rotten apples.

In 2016 a new study [5] was published that reviewed the adverse effects of sweeteners. The only adverse effects were found in pregnant women who consumed a high amount of sweeteners. A greater chance of a premature birth and a greater chance that the child will develop asthma at the age of 7 were the observed effects.

Beyond these two points there was no found an effect of artificial sweeteners on various cancers, type 2 diabetes and infertility.

Remember this!

To date, no evidence has been found in people that a normal consumption of sweeteners has an adverse effect on the development of cancer, diabetes or metabolic disorders. The recommended daily amounts are also very generous. For example, you should drink more than 36 liters of light soft drinks to see a health effect from aspartame. Only pregnant women may have an increased risk of sweetening effects, but this is only with high amounts.

In conclusion, we can therefore state that artificial sweeteners can be consumed without problems and that adding them to food supplements is absolutely no problem. So think about this blog next time, if someone tries to tell you again that you are a life-threatening one Whey Delicious shake works inside!


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17805418

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4135487/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2951976/

[4] http://annonc.oxfordjournals.org/content/15/10/1460.short

[5] http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0104-42302016000200120

Written by Mathias Jansen





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