Health

Sweet Nothings

You may be better off choosing sugar over some sweeteners

Think artificial sweeteners are a surefire shortcut to a slim waist? Think again. Unless you have diabetes, it’s better to choose a healthy diet – including small amounts of regular sugar – than to load up on sweeteners, says Joe Schwarcz, a chemistry professor at McGill University in Montreal. The reason: sweeteners may actually cause people to overindulge in high-calorie foods, according to one U.S. study. And even though they’ve been approved by Health Canada, most artificial sweeteners are so new that researchers haven’t determined their long-term effects, says Massimo Marcone, a professor of food science at the University of Guelph in Ontario. That said, it’s pretty hard to avoid sweeteners because they’re added to everything from diet soft drinks to prescription medications. Choose a sweetener below to help you choose wisely.

Sucralose

Splenda Found in low-carb products, diet soft drinks, gelatin, light fruit beverages and low-cal baked goods.

What is it?

Regular sugar (sucrose) bonded to chlorine.

How safe is it?

Safe “For 15 years, it was subjected to a battery of short- and long-term animal-feeding studies,” says Joe Schwarcz, a chemistry professor at McGill University in Montreal. “The results were conclusive: sucralose is safe.”

Aspartame

NutraSweet, Equal Found in diet soft drinks, low-cal products and sugar-free candy and gum.

What is it?

A combination of amino acids.

How safe is it?

Probably safe Aspartame has never been proven to increase the risk of cancer, but rare cases of seizures, headaches, dizziness and a worsening of depression have been cited in those who ingest large amounts (more than 20 cans of diet soda a day), says Joe Schwarcz, a chemistry professor at McGill University in Montreal.

Sugar alcohols

Sorbitol, lactitol, mannitol, maltitol, xylitol Found in sugar-free candy and low-fat products, including diet bars.

What is it?

Regular sugar manufactured with hydrogen molecules.

How safe is it?

Safe, with side effects For many, taking as little as one gram of sugar alcohol (half a stick of Extra gum) can cause diarrhea, cramps, gas and bloating, says Massimo Marcone, a professor of food science at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

Acesulfame potassium

Found in diet soft drinks, low-cal frozen desserts and cookies, and sugar-free candy and gum.

What is it?

Synthetic chemicals that are bonded to potassium.

How safe is it?

Long-term effects unknown More than 90 studies have verified its short-term safety; however, acesulfame hasn’t been around long enough to determine whether long-term use may cause cancer, according to a recent review published in the Annals of Oncology.

Saccharin

Sweet’N Low Used as a direct sugar substitute.

What is it?

A synthetic chemical that starts with toluene.

How safe is it?

Use with caution One major U.S. study found a link between heavy consumption (six or more packets a day) and a slightly increased risk of bladder cancer. It can only be purchased at pharmacies in Canada.

Sizing up sweeteners