Decades after their introduction to our diets there is still an ongoing debate whether sweeteners are harmful to our health or if they are simply a safe way to suppress your sweet cravings.
First things first we have to understand why it is considered beneficial for us to cut back on sugar, and before that we have to understand the big difference between various sources of sugar. Long story short when it comes to sugar it is all about how it is packaged. Sugars in the form of fruits come with a high fibre content (great for digestion), low glycemic index (meaning they do not cause sudden spikes in your blood sugar) and they provide you with lots of nutrients.
On the other hand the “evil sugars” come in processed forms such as chocolate bars, fizzy drinks, highly processed fruit juices, ice creams, and they are even added to products like soups, breads, etc. They have none of the beneficial stuff which we mentioned above, and they cause an unwanted spike in blood glucose which therefore raises your insulin levels (which eventually make it harder to burn off fat). They also increase triglycerides, cause inflammation in the body which then has the potential to lead to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
How do sweeteners fair in comparison to sugar then? First of all I have to make it clear that most of the scaremongering claims root from animal studies where extremely high doses of these substances have been used. And believe it or not when it comes to human safety, animal studies are widely considered as a very poor source of information.
Also studies that claim a risk of obesity due to sweetener consumption tend to make the most common mistake of confusing correlation with causation. Most of the time it was not the sweetener that made the participants of these studies overweight but it was the overweight people consuming sweeteners with the aim of losing weight.
Whilst almost all the major health authorities in the world have agreed upon the safety of sweetener consumption, this should not “encourage” us to feast on sweeteners as they are still relatively new to our bodies, and there may still be more to discover over time. In the meantime I would not worry too much about an occasional can of a diet drink. At the end of the day it is usually the dose that makes the poison – you should consume what suits you in healthy moderation.