Artificial sweeteners provide the sweet taste of sugar without the kilojoules/calories. They are safe when used in moderation and can make increase the variety of foods you can choose without adding extra calories, but if should be remembered that they do not decrease the desire for sweet foods and there is little evidence that they will help you to lose weight. Some of the artificially sweetened foods can also be high in fat and low in fibre so read labels carefully. Also, artificial sweeteners are not the only option to sweeten food - dried fruit or fruit juice can be used- its always better to rely on the natural sweetness in whole foods, so use them as a treat occasionally.
Many people are apprehensive about using artificial sweeteners. These intense sweeteners do undergo a comprehensive safety assessment before being permitted in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Acceptable Daily Intakes (ADIs) have been set for all sweeteners, which is the amount of a food additive that can be ingested daily over an entire lifetime without any appreciable risk to health.
Most artificial sweeteners are safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. There has been some concerns in the past regarding cyclamate and saccharine so it is probably wise to limit intake of these substances. You should minimise use in pregnancy and breastfeeding, but these are the preferred sweeteners at this time: Acesulphame K, Alitame, Aspartame, and Sucralose.
There has been a lot of publicity about aspartame. It is one of the most widely used and popular alternative sweeteners in food and beverages and has 200 times the sweetness of sugar. It is made from two amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). Aspartame is broken down into aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol in our bodies. There is a requirement to label any food containing aspartame or aspartame-acesulphame to state that it contains phenylalanine. Phenylketonuria (PKU) is a rare genetic disorder that prevents the body breaking down phenylalanine. In people with PKU the phenylalanine builds up in the tissues of the body and can cause irreversible brain damage. Babies are tested for this disorder at birth. People with PKU must follow a special limited diet which strictly limits their intake of phenylalanine, especially in the early and teenage years. Phenylalanine is found in all protein foods and is not dangerous for the average person.
Some artificial sweeteners can have a laxative effect (diarrhoea and a stomach ache) when consumed in large amounts. This should be written as a warning on the label.
Powdered sweeteners such as Splenda and Stevia are the most suitable for cooking and baking as they stay sweet when heated. Aspartame (Nutrasweet) loses sweetness if heated, so should be added at the end of cooking. Saccharin, cyclamate and liquid sweeteners tend to go bitter if heated so add after the food has cooled down.
More about types of sweetneners next week.
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