A major topic among Foodfacts.com readers and foodies alike are the amounts of artificial sweeteners in processed foods, and their possibly damaging properties. Diet sodas, juices, breakfast foods, and thousands of other products contain aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, neotame, or acesulfame potassium. These five artificial sweeteners have been tested and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as food additives.
However, heavy debates continue over some of these sweeteners as to whether or not they are truly safe. Despite their assistance in rising obesity numbers, increased cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and tooth decay; markets are still pushing these low-calorie additives to make huge profits. Below is a brief history of some of these controversial sugar substitutions. What do you think of these sweeteners??
Saccharin also known as “Sweet n’ Low”
Saccharin was unintentionally discovered in 1879 by Johns Hopkins University Scientists trying to concoct a miracle drug. What these scientists found was that this non-nutritive coal-tar derivative was approximately 300 times sweeter than that of sugar. Just a few short years later saccharin was being widely used as a food additive in most processed and canned foods.
In 1907, under the Pure Food and Drug Act, a top food safety agent for the USDA investigated saccharin as a possibly illegal substitution of a valuable ingredient. President at the time, Theodore Roosevelt, opposed this idea and stated, “Anybody who says saccharin is injurious to health is an idiot.” A few short days later, this top food safety agent opposing saccharin was released from his position with the USDA.
In 1970, saccharin was presented with a warning label after studies found that this non-nutritive sweetener was causing tumor-growth in bladders of rodents. However, these labels were lifted from saccharin in the early 2000s after scientists frantically justified that rodents may have different pH, calcium, and protein levels in their urine which may lead to bladder cancer with or without saccharin. In late 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency removed saccharin from their long list of hazardous substances, deeming it a safe product.
Aspartame also known as “NutraSweet/Equal”
Coincidentally, aspartame was also unintentionally discovered in 1965 when scientist, James Schlatter, was trying to discover a preventative ulcer drug. As Schlatter was mixing amino acids, asparatic acid and phenylalanine, he decided to taste the product. After realizing its immediate sweetness, he realized he may have struck gold with this accidental product. This was the day that aspartame was first discovered as the next low-calorie artificial sweetener.
Aspartame underwent several trials and tests before a pharmaceutical company, GD Searle & Co decided to manufacture the product. After the popularity of saccharin was slowly on the downfall due to lab results showing bladder cancer in rats, Schlatter and GD Searle decided to petition for FDA’s approval of aspartame, hoping to release their product into the sugar-crazed market.
The scientist and GD Searle included lab results within their petition, proving safety and validity of their product. Around 1974, the FDA approved aspartame as a food additive, but only for certain foods. However, after further speculation, the FDA later found deficiencies in GD Searle’s operations and practices, requiring aspartame to undergo more vigorous testing and clinical trials, before once again receiving approval.
For years now aspartame has gone through various clinical trials and lab testing to validate its safety for human consumption. A study was done by Olney in 1996 regarding the safety of aspartame. This study suggested that the introduction of aspartame into the United States consumer market in 1975, to 1992, was associated with an increased number of subjects diagnosed with brain tumors. This caused a major damper for manufacturers as people now feared what would occur if they continued to eat and drink products loaded with this sweetener. What was once deemed a “miracle sugar” quickly became a “cancer sugar.”
In 2006, the National Cancer Institute conducted a study with approximately half a million people to determine the mentioned link between cancer and aspartame. The study compared subjects that consumed beverages with aspartame, with subjects that did not. Results showed that increased levels of consumption of this sweetener had no positive association with any lymphomas, leukemia, or brain cancers in men and women. Aspartame is still approved by the FDA, and since 1996, is now allowed to be used in all foods.
Sucralose also known as “Splenda”
Sucralose was created in 1976 by a major British-based agribusiness, Tate & Lyle. One of their tests involved a chlorinated sugar compound. Scientist, Shashikant Phadnis, decided after creating the product to taste it, and discovered it was exceptionally sweet. It was immediately patent in 1976 by Tate & Lyle.
Sucralose (or Splenda) was first approved to be used as a food additive in Canada in 1991. Soon after, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and the European Union followed. As of 2008, Splenda has been approved in over 80 countries. This product is deemed safe by a number of organizations including the FDA, Joint Food & Agriculture Organization, and Center for Science in the Public Interest. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, the amount of sucralose that may be consumed over a person’s lifetime without any adverse effects is 9mg/kg/day.
The Food and Drug Administration has reviewed hundreds of clinical trials involving both animals and humans that show no harmful long-term results of the consumption of sucralose. However, adverse events reported by consumers include enlarged liver & kidneys, thymus shrinkage, nausea, vomiting, headache, and weight loss.
What are your thoughts on these sweeteners?