Artificial Sweeteners vs Sugar: Which is Better?
By Kate Gardner
Whenever I get tagged to bring drinks in for a party at my kids' school, I'm faced with the dilemma of what sort of drink to buy. I know it's important to cut down on sugar, so should I bring in a diet drink with artificial sweeteners? Or is it better to avoid those artificial sweeteners and opt for something with real sugar instead? I usually disappoint them all by bringing in water, but it made me wonder: Which is better -- real sugar or artificial sweeteners?
Harvard Health tackles this question in their article, "Artificial sweeteners: sugar-free, but at what cost?" The first thing to know is that there are five approved artificial sweeteners: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association have issued statements, cautiously supporting the use of these sweeteners to help people cut back on sugar and its related health issues.
These sweeteners have all undergone testing and, for the most part, major risks like cancer have been ruled out. The article does point out that these studies may have looked at the safety of small amounts of sweeteners, oftentimes much less than what we get when we drink a couple of diet sodas per day. These studies also don't address the safety of consuming artificial sweeteners day after day over a long period of time.
Studies of people who consume artificial sweeteners show other health problems, too. Drinking diet sodas is associated with a higher rate of metabolic syndrome (a group of issues like high blood pressure and blood sugar that place you at greater risk of developing stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes) and a greater risk for type 2 diabetes. These are the same problems artificial sweeteners are supposed to help fight against. Artificial sweeteners may also change the way our brains respond to sweet food, causing us to eat more sugar, and have been shown to be addictive in animal studies.
Eating a lot of sugar is bad for you, yet many of us struggle with curbing our intake. Do the risks associated with artificial sweeteners really outweigh the benefits of consuming less sugar? The obvious answer is the hard one -- reduce your sugar intake and avoid artificial sweeteners, but in a society where sweet foods are around every corner, that can feel impossible. I guess I'll just keep bringing water.
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