WJTV News Channel 12 - SPECIAL REPORT: Sweet Reality: Sugar vs. Artificial Sweeteners

SPECIAL REPORT: Sweet Reality: Sugar vs. Artificial Sweeteners

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Clinical Nutrition Manager, Larissa Gedney of Conway Medical Center talks about artificial sweeteners with Ed Gutknecht Clinical Nutrition Manager, Larissa Gedney of Conway Medical Center talks about artificial sweeteners with Ed Gutknecht

CONWAY, SC - A cup of java includes a packet of Splenda for Ed Gutknecht of Ocean Isle Beach. "I found saccharin left an after taste in your mouth and I didn't care for that, and then I went into like Splenda that was more suitable."

The 67 year old's journey to maintain a good healthy diet started after his diabetes diagnosis some 16 years ago. "I had to redistribute my way of thinking with what I'm eating and what I'm taking and so with that point I really stopped using sugar. And I went into the substitutes. And then I went through the gamut of which ones I like and don't like and then I went on a pretty stringent diet."

He chose to use artificial sweeteners rather than sugar in order to keep his calorie and carbohydrate intake low. "I'm confident in my choices. I have no reason to go back to sugar because that's a carb in itself and I have to watch my carb counting."  

Clinical Nutrition Manager, Larissa Gedney of Conway Medical Center helps a lot of patients like Gutknecht. She admits the confusion over using sugar substitutes verses regular table sugar can be frustrating, but says it all comes down to reading labels and moderation. "There's pros and cons with both sugar and artificial sweeteners and really it depends from person to person. For example, someone with diabetes may be watching their total carb content so regular sugar is going to increase their carb count and they may chose something that is calorie free or carb free. And that's usually in the form of artificial sweeteners." 

The Food and Drug Administration regulates artificial sweeteners. According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no concrete evidence that shows FDA approved artificial sweeteners are associated with cancer risk in humans. However, you may want to keep this in mind if you drink diet sodas. "The most common one that you'll find in diet sodas is aspertame. This is one that in moderation may be ok. The FDA has approved it as being safe. The studies done though usually are with smaller quantities. The average American may drink 24 ounces of diet soda a day and the studies done on humans with aspertame is in much smaller doses. So the long term health effects of it are still kind of up in the air with that one."

Not everyone agrees with the FDA's findings. Critics say artificial sweeteners can cause a variety of health problems, including cancer. Most likely because of a study done in the 1970's. "The pink one, which is saccharin, this is the only one the FDA recommends pregnant women not to consume. Studies done back in the1970's which were done on rats showed the potential of cancer formation in rats. The studies on humans again have not been done with enough saccharin to really determine anything with that."  

So, here are some of the more popular artificial sweeteners. Sweet n Low contains saccharin. Again, the FDA recommends pregnant women not to consume it. Splenda is made from sucralose. It's more plant and sugar based. Equal and NutraSweet contain aspertame. And Stevia and Truvia are plant based products made from the Stevia plant. All are FDA approved. "I would say Stevia is probably the healthiest, or the ones with the least potential health risks compared to the other artificial sweeteners, said Gedney" 

It's also suggested artificial sweeteners may change the way you taste things. "There are some studies that suggest that drinking even diet drinks or foods made with artificial sweeteners will increase your preference towards sweet things. So if you're so used to drinking diet soda and someone gives you a glass of water it may not be as satisfying to you if you're used to drinking the diet or a sweet beverage." 

Critics point out many of the studies are inconclusive. They also question how they are performed, which creates controversy about the health risks or benefits of artificial sweeteners. Again Gedney says it all comes down to moderation and reading labels, and making healthy choices in everything you do. "Look to see what type of artificial sweetener is in it..If it's for example, a sugar alcohol, having too much of that may have some GI upsets with you, so you do have to check the labels for things. Also you may be thinking that you're getting something healthier that's lower calorie and lower carbohydrates but it may have just the same about of calories and carbs as regular full version."

Not to mention how it tastes also matters. "The flavors not there but the advantage is there with the artificial sweetener. So you have a tendency to say I don't particularly like this product all the time so you're continually looking for that has adjustments for the sweeteners you would like."  

And when it comes to concerns about the safety of artificial sweeteners. Gutknecht adheres to Gedney's advice, which is if you only use these products in moderation and you're making healthy choices in every other aspect of your life then your risk of long term health problems associated with artificial sweeteners is most likely low.

No doubt the "Sweet Reality" is that the debate over artificial sweeteners and their safety will continue. n the end, it all comes down to what you're comfortable with, and what you feel is right for your health. To learn more about the pros and cons of artificial sweeteners vs. sugar, click on the following links.







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