Recently a national television show spent one hour on the topic of low calorie sweeteners. During the hour, several misstatements were made about low calorie sweeteners, not the least of which a “mistake” in terms of the amount consumed. Accusations were made that low calorie sweeteners can "pervert" the system when it comes to perception of sweetness, that they trigger weight gain, and that they cause weight gain in the all important to health area – the belly. The problem with the discussion is that few scientific facts were presented; it was a show of much "sensation" and little substance.
As a registered dietitian (RD) I pride myself on knowing the science of food and nutrition and speaking about the science - not beliefs, myths or sensations. As an RD, I have read the science and because of that I have agreed to serve as a member of the Aspartame Advisory Panel. This panel focuses on reviewing scientific studies,advising the company on what the studies mean to consumers and how to communicate scientific facts about low calorie sweeteners, so let’s discuss some facts.
First, the body of evidence on the safety of low calorie sweeteners, in humans, is extensive and to this point it is safe for consumption by adults. Evidence is not as conclusive on use by children but thus far no human studies show harm when used by children. The presence of data in humans is especially important since – well we aren’t rats – and rats respond differently to low calorie sweeteners than do humans. example – rats like starch so they respond favorably to the sweetener Splenda but they do not like Sucralose. Rats are also indifferent to Aspartame, whereas humans find it to be sweet.
Second, during this show the host stated that the average consumption of low calorie sweeteners per year is 24 pounds or 10,000 individual packets per year or 27 packets per day or 9 packets per meal - Every Day. A search of the literature shows that the actual per individual intake is about one pound per year – so Not 24 Actually 1 pound/year.
Third, a significant number of scientific organizations, including the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, have all stated that low calorie sweeteners can be a useful part of a weight management plan and Not the cause of weight gain.
So what should you do with your low calorie Sweeteners? Continue to use them in place of sugar, honey, brown sugar, maple syrup and other calorie sweeteners to get the sweet taste you love without the calories. But don’t forget that other foods can provide a sweet taste – Fresh fruit with low-fat yogurt, sliced bananas on cereal, a small glass of 100% juice combined with sparkling water for a refreshing drink and many other options.