June 27, 2017

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Artificial Sweeteners: The Good, The Bad…Wait Are They Really That Bad for You?

artificial sweetenersHow much sugar do you think you eat every day? If you’re like the average American and the typical patient when they first come to the Willmar Diabetes Center, far too much.

Most people have at least 20 teaspoons of sugar every day. For women that’s 14 teaspoons more than the daily recommended allowance and for men it’s 11. It’s easy to consume too much sugar—after all it’s added to many processed foods like cereal, snacks, sodas and more. In fact, in just one can of soda, you’ll consume at least 10 teaspoons of sugar!

Many patients we see at the Willmar Diabetes Center are startled to hear that. Though sugar in and of itself isn’t entirely to blame for the obesity epidemic, it’s certainly contributing to it. And one of the biggest health complications tied to obesity is—you guessed it—prediabetes and diabetes.

People with diabetes have problems regulating the amount of sugar in their blood; they have a high blood glucose. They can have sugar, but they have to monitor their overall carbohydrate intake because carbohydrates raise your blood sugar levels. Sugar is a carbohydrate. But certain sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) and stevia are not.  Many of our patients use them, in moderation, in place of sugar.

Artificial sweeteners are often found in processed foods like baked goods, soft drinks, drink mixes, candy, jams, jellies, dairy products and more. They’re virtually calorie-free. Conversely, just one teaspoon of sugar has 16 calories. And the average American has at least 20 teaspoons of added sugars a day. That’s 320 calories a day, with no nutritional value, just from sugar alone. Empty calories from excess sugar are contributing to our obesity epidemic, which seems to be tied to the growing number of diabetic cases in the U.S.

We know what you’re thinking. We’ve heard it before. Artificial sweeteners? They’re so bad for you. Aren’t they? You’ve probably even seen stories gracing the internet about the dangers of artificial sweeteners. Over the years they’ve been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer. But according to the National Cancer Institute, there is no sound scientific evidence that they lead to cancer or any other serious health issues. And the FDA has labeled these artificial sweeteners as GRAS, which means their generally recognized as safe to consume. So are they really bad for you? According to the new line of thinking: no.

“We get a lot of questions about artificial sweeteners from our patients,” said Jennifer Freitag, RN, CNP, and ACMC certified diabetes educator. “There’s a common misconception that they’re bad for your health. In general, whether you’re diabetic or not, they can actually help control blood sugar. They may even help with weight control as long as substituting artificial sweeteners doesn’t lead to over consumption somewhere else in your diet.”

She adds, “They’re a reasonable alternative to sugar as long as you aren’t consuming a ridiculous amount of them. But when it comes to someone who’s looking for a beverage that isn’t ladled with sugar, the best option is still water.”

So the next time you want to reach for that can of diet soda or that sugar-free snack, go ahead. Just remember the golden rule of healthy eating: everything in moderation.