There has been a lot of negative press about artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame and sucralose, however sweeteners added to foods and drinks in Ireland have all passed thorough rigorous safety tests. Rumors persist however about the hazards of artificial sweeteners, with aspartame in particular targeted. In order to exceed the acceptable daily intake (ADI) for aspartame, an adult weighing 60Kg would have to drink at least 10 litres of a diet soft drink per day.
A number of reports in recent years have indicated a possible link with epilepsy and brain tumours, headaches, allergies, and behavioural changes. Concerns have also been raised about the possibility of toxicity from methanol, one of the breakdown products of aspartame in the body. Additionally, it has been suggested that consumption of aspartame can be linked to development of serious disorders such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome and diabetes mellitus. However, according to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, most of the data to substantiate these claims are anecdotal and no reliable scientific evidence is available to show that aspartame might be responsible for these conditions. The FDA has reviewed all complaints alleging adverse reactions to products containing aspartame since 1985, but have failed to determine any consistent pattern of symptoms that can be attributed to the use of aspartame.
In the case of sweeteners such as aspartame, the levels are set at values which will protect particularly vulnerable populations such as diabetics, who must avoid sugar-containing food and drinks, and children who are known to consume larger quantities of beverages such as fizzy drinks and squashes that may be sweetened using aspartame. In Ireland, the dietary intake of food additives in Ireland has been evaluated in 2000 and has shown that the general population does not exceed the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners can be a useful tool for individuals who are trying to lose weight and for those with diabetes as they are calorie free and do not raise blood sugar levels. I would advise however limiting your intake of anything artificial as your liver will still have to break it down. If you do use artificial sweeteners regularly try to cut down on your intake, use a natural alternative (stevia, xylitol or agave nectar), or use different types of artificial sweeteners i.e. use one type at home and another one at work.
If you’re watching your weight, then choosing lower calorie or low GI natural sugar-alternatives could be useful. However cutting down on all added sugars and sweeteners will help to reduce your reliance and cravings for sweet foods, which will aid weight management for the long term.