All things artificial sweeteners

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Recently, sugar has taken the spotlight over fat as the unhealthiest component of foods. This is due to the impact that excess consumption can have on your health, including weight gain and blood sugar irregularity. However, with the increasing development of artificial sweeteners, you can still indulge in the occasional sweet treat without facing all of the potential negative health factors of refined sugar. 
 
What are the benefits of artificial sweeteners?
 
Artificial sweeteners can provide a few benefits over using refined sugar. One of the more obvious ones is that they contain zero calories, providing lower calorie products to individuals focusing on weight management. The sugary taste may help tide over sweet cravings without overdoing calorie intake. Also, because they’re synthetic, many dentists claim that they can help protect against cavities, compared to refined sugars. Artificial sweeteners also don’t cause spikes in blood sugars, which can be crucial for diabetics striving to improve their A1C.
 
Which artificial sweetener should you choose?
 
This depends on how they’re used and your own preference. Sweeteners such as Aspartame aren’t heat stable and aren’t recommended to be used in things like coffee or baking. Anecdotal reports have shown some people are sensitive to these and may have side effects like headaches if they consume too much. Splenda and Sweet-n-Low are a better choice when choosing an artificial sweetener to cook or bake with, since these don’t turn bitter with heat. However, you still need to use a little natural sugar in recipes when baking. Some argue that Stevia is the best option because it’s produced naturally by a plant. 
 
What to know about sugar alcohols
 
Another form of artificial sweeteners is sugar alcohols. They aren’t completely calorie free, but have a much lower caloric value than natural sugars. This form of sugar can be difficult to spot, since companies aren’t required to specify sugar alcohols on the nutrition label. It’s important to look for words on the ingredient list like mannitol and xylitol, often found in products advertised for the diabetic community. Consuming too much sugar alcohols can lead to gastrointestinal issues, abdominal pain and diarrhea. 
 
Who should avoid using artificial sweeteners?
 
Artificial sweeteners aren’t for everyone. If you’re able to control your sugar intake and have good dietary behaviors in place, it’s better to incorporate natural sugars in your diet’ since we’re still investigating the long-term effects from sweeteners. They’re also not recommended for individuals suffering from certain diseases like liver disease or the inherited disorder PKU, so it’s encouraged to talk to your doctor or registered dietitian before using them regularly.
 
Roy Gildersleeve is a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.