Are sugar substitutes bad for you?

Consumer Reports News: July 14, 2010 01:08 PM

Every time you tear open one of those little colored packets, you might wonder whether you’re opening yourself up to any health risks. For decades, there’s been controversy concerning the safety of sugar substitutes. First, saccharin (Sweet’N Low) was suspected of contributing to bladder cancer, then came concerns that aspartame (Equal) might be linked to brain tumors. Good news: The National Cancer Institute hasn’t found clear evidence showing that those sweeteners are associated with cancer threats.

That’s why you no longer see labels on saccharin warning that it "has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals." The government stripped that requirement after further testing didn’t prove that a cancer link existed in humans. And concerns that aspartame might cause brain tumors weren’t confirmed. A similar ingredient, neotame, has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, as have sucralose (Splenda) and a sugar substitute called acesulfame potassium (sold as Sweet One and Sunett).

Some studies suggest that artificial sweeteners might encourage weight gain. Researchers theorize that some people might gain weight because they use sugar substitutes to justify consuming other high-calorie foods or because the substitutes might somehow stimulate appetite. Either way, using sugar substitutes isn’t the way to lose weight—diet and exercise are still the way to go.

Read more about sugar substitutes  and take a look at the results of our tests of 11 brands  (subscribers only).

This article first appeared in the July 2010 issue of ShopSmart magazine.

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