Artificial sweeteners were developed to lower the calorie count for processed foods. Initially, they were celebrated as a way to make enjoying some of our favorite foods healthier. Food manufacturers were quick to create line extensions of their best-selling products, touting low-calorie or sugar-free options of soda, candy, and many other processed foods.
It was a win-win; society kept its sweets and we got to feel better about it.
The safety of artificial sweeteners has been under the microscope for some time now, but a recent study found that they may increase the risk of cancer. Examining a cohort of 100,000 French adults, researchers have more evidence that artificial sweeteners play a role in cancer rates.
What is an Artificial Sweetener?
There are several artificial sweeteners used in products like diet soda, yogurt, and sugar replacements like Stevia. Some of the most common synthetic sweeteners are:
What Did The Study Say?
First published in PLOS, researchers followed 100,000 French adults with a median age of 42 years old. Participants were responsible for recording and submitting their diets 24/7 for up to two years. One of the drawbacks of the study was its composition; it featured participants were more likely to have higher education levels and demonstrated health-conscious behaviors. This reduced the number of participants who included artificial sweeteners as a part of their diet.
As a result, researchers included specific cohort divisions grouped in three categories: non-consumers of artificial sweeteners, low-consumers, and high-consumers.
Researchers found that aspartame was the most common artificial sweetener used, contributing to roughly 58% of total intake. Aspartame was linked to an increased risk of breast and obesity-related cancers in study participants.
Artificial Sweetener Guidelines
Artificial sweeteners undergo an approval process in the United State and Europe. In the US, the FDA is responsible for approving what it categorizes as “high-intensity” sweeteners. These include any synthetic sweetening ingredients that provide substantial sweetening power with little energy.
More and more governing bodies are taking a closer look at the risks associated with artificial sweeteners after similar studies have linked the ingredients to health issues like cancer, obesity, and other diseases. Animal studies have also shown a strong correlation between artificial sweeteners and cancer.
The debate on these and other food ingredients used in common manufacturing applications will continue, but it’s always better to restrict the intake of natural and artificial sweeteners whenever possible.