The safety of artificial sweeteners has been debated for decades, but new research is renewing concerns about their potential health impacts.
The researchers behind a large-scale nutrition study in France say they have found associations between the consumption of artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, and cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The NutriNet-Santé study, which included more than 100,000 participants, is one of the largest of its kind and the first to quantify the amount of sweeteners consumed, they say.
“It’s an important step, a new brick in the wall, in terms of the weight of evidence that we would train together on artificial sweeteners and health,” said Mathilde Touvier, head of the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team at the National Institutes of Health. and Medicine of France. Research and one of the study authors.
Non-nutritive sweeteners, as they are known in nutritional science, are intensely sweet (some hundreds of times sweeter than sugar) and are preferred by many for offering the taste of sugar without the calories. And as the long-term effects of excess sugar become better understood, artificial sweeteners are also being seen as an alternative.
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While diet soda may be the most obvious source, artificial sweeteners are found in all kinds of common foods, including yogurts, baked goods, and even ketchup.
Previous studies have found that sugar substitutes can alter gut microbiomes Y raise blood sugar. Other studies have even suggested that they can lead to weight gain, although that has been discussed.
“There really is a growing body of evidence to challenge the assumption that artificial sweeteners are metabolically inert substances. And I think these findings should give us pause,” Leslie Beck, a dietitian and health columnist, said in an interview with the dose Dr Brian Goldman.
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The most recent Last month the NutriNet-Santé study on cardiovascular health was published in the British Medical Journal.
He classified the participants into three groups: low, high and non-consumers of artificial sweeteners. Those in the tallest cohort consumed about 77 milligrams of artificial sweeteners a day, which is roughly equivalent to two packets of sweetener or less than 200 milliliters of diet soda.
Compared to nonusers, older users tended to be younger, had a higher body mass index, were more likely to smoke, and were less likely to exercise.
What the study found is that aspartame intake was associated with higher rates of cerebrovascular events such as stroke and acesulfame potassium and sucralose. were associated with higher rates of coronary heart disease in participants who were heavy users compared to non-users.
A separate study also using data from the NutriNet-Santé group, published last March in the journal PLOS Medicine, found an association between artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame and acesulfame potassium, and cancer risk.
Touvier points out that the World Health Organization (WHO) is currently researching the safety of artificial sweeteners.
in a meta-analysis of almost 300 studies published in April, the WHO found that there may be short-term benefits for weight loss when sugar-based beverages are replaced with artificially sweetened beverages, but not when compared to water. It also found that the studies suggest “the possibility of long-term harm in the form of increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mortality,” but cautioned that further research is needed.
“We hope that this new work will bring important evidence and help [the WHO] potentially review their opinion and regulation on artificial sweeteners,” Touvier said.
In Canada, sugar substitutes are regulated and approved following a safety evaluation by Health Canada.
Less consumption of sweet foods.
David Ma, professor and nutrition researcher at the University of Guelph, says that while the findings from the most recent NutriNet-Santé study found an increased risk of cardiovascular health in a relatively small number of people, they suggest there is a “signal” of potential long-term health effects
However, that does not indicate an immediate danger for most consumers.
“I would say, you know, the sky is not going to fall because we have artificial sweeteners in our diet,” said Ma, who is also director of the Guelph Family Health Study.
“But we certainly need to be vigilant about everything in our diet, including artificial sweeteners in terms of short-term and long-term effects.”
Like everything in nutrition, researchers say moderation is key. And Touvier says that based on the findings of his study, occasional consumption of artificial sweeteners carries a fairly low risk.
Canada’s food guide states that sugar substitutes are not necessary for a healthy diet. In fact, using them can lead to less healthy food choices and an increased preference for sweet foods.
Whether it’s the sweetness from artificial sweeteners or sugar, Beck said cutting back is key. She recommends:
- Gradually reduce your use of sweeteners, for example by using a quarter pack less each week.
- Switching to flavored carbonated waters for those who crave refreshments.
- Consider plain yogurt naturally sweetened with fresh fruit instead of sweetened yogurts.
“It’s entirely possible to adjust your taste buds and come to prefer a less sweet taste,” the dietitian said.
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