Artificial sweeteners – Are they healthier than sugar?

By June Shannon Nutrition News   |   3rd May 2018

Heart of the matter- artificial sweeteners

Thursday 03 May 2018

Heart of the matter- artificial sweeteners

Sweeteners – Are they healthier than sugar?

At the Irish Heart Foundation, we aim to provide accurate and evidence-based information on heart health to help you make informed decisions about your health. One of the questions we get asked a lot is what effects do artificial sweeteners have on our health and are they healthier than real sugar?

Maintaining a healthy weight is important in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and in order to do this many people are making the switch from sugar to other sources of sweetness.

While a small amount of sugar every now and then can be included as part of a healthy diet, it is important to get the balance right.

Added sugar, so table sugar and sugar found in sugar sweetened drinks, cakes, sweets and biscuits provide empty calories which can contribute to weight gain and being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart disease.

Therefore, the Irish Heart Foundation’s expert dietitian Sarah Noone’s advice is that “to keep your heart healthy, it’s important to watch the sugar in your diet.”

"To keep your heart healthy, it's important to watch the sugar in your diet.”

Sarah Noone, Dietitian , Irish Heart Foundation

Sarah explained that ‘natural’ alternatives to sugar such as honey and syrups are often seen as healthier options, but the reality is that these are still sugar, just in a liquid form.

“If you want some extra sweetness with little or no calories many choose artificial sweeteners. Sorbitol, acesulfame K, aspartame, saccharin, sorbitol, sucralose, stevia and xylitol are the main artificial sweeteners and are used in a variety of foods and drinks. Some people are reluctant to use artificial sweeteners due to headlines misinterpreting the risk and mistakenly linking them to health problems such as cancer and liver damage.”

“However, before sweeteners are added to food and drink in Ireland they must pass rigorous safety assessments and receive approval from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA),” Sarah said.

“So, while rumours persist about the safety of some artificial sweeteners such as aspartame for example, artificial sweeteners are one of the most exhaustively tested groups of food additives and the EFSA has set an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for each sweetener. The average amount that most people take in is well within the acceptable range.”

"Honey and syrups are still sugar, just in a liquid form"

Sarah Noone, Dietitian , Irish Heart Foundation

So, they are safe, but are they healthy?

According to Sarah, artificial sweeteners are better for our teeth, and a useful alternative for people with diabetes who need to watch their blood sugar levels. Did you know that while sweeteners provide a sweet taste, they do not increase blood sugar levels.

However, she advised that in relation to weight loss, the research was more mixed, and there was limited evidence that artificial sweeteners may increase your appetite.

“If you’re watching your weight then swapping to an artificial sweetener can be useful to reduce calorie intake. However, sweeteners do not reduce our overall taste for sweetness in our diet, so we need think about how we can gradually cut down and reduce our reliance on all added sugars/ sweeteners which will be good for your weight and your heart. A whole diet approach which focuses on quality and portion sizes rather than specific ingredients and nutrients is important for a healthy heart,” Sarah concluded.




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