People ask me about artificial sweeteners all the time. It’s like I’ll be walking down the street and next thing I know I’m being harassed by some stranger about how many Splendas I have in my coffee. Or like on Thanksgiving, my aunt I hadn’t seen in a year didn’t even ask me how I was or how school was going, all she wanted to talk about were the health effects associated with acesulfame-K consumption.
Ok, so none of that ever happened, but I really do get a lot of questions about sweeteners, their safety, if I use them, and how much. Let’s start this post with complete transparency: Yes, I use artificial sweeteners. Specifically, I use Splenda because I like the way it tastes and I know its level of sweetness (yeah, sweeteners have varying levels of sweetness compared to sugar). I put Splenda in my coffee, Fage 0% Greek yogurt, my oatmeal, and I bake with the granulated version.
Enough about me, let me sweet talk you.
If you read The Slender Student then you’re obviously beautiful, charming, patient, charismatic, caring, well-rounded, and interested in health. Since you’re interested in health, you’ve probably seen some studies that conclude with sweetener consumption causing cancer (or Alzheimers, or multiple sclerosis, or high blood pressure, or male pattern baldness). Let me tell you three things about these studies: 1) they’re outdated; 2) they were performed on rats; 3) said rats were consuming multiple times their body weight in sweetener.
More recent studies have revealed less alarming results and have led the FDA to set an acceptable daily measure, or ADI, for the accepted sweeteners. See in the graphic above. These limits have an added safety net in that they’re actually set to 100 times below the amount it’d take for one to be harmed.
In the first talk I gave at a sorority house, I was asked if I knew anything about the consumption of artificial sweeteners causing increased sugar cravings. I told her I’d never experienced such a thing, but that I’d look into it. In some studies, there has been no increase in body weight associated with an increase in sweetener consumption. In another study, body weight of obese individuals did increase with artificial sweetener consumption. However this relationship is believed to be a correlation, not causation. This could mean a couple of things. First of all, the study was performed on obese people, meaning that these subjects already exhibited behaviors or other factors that lead to weight gain. I mean, they could’ve already been on the weight gaining track without any change in their sweets. Secondly, individuals might use their switch to sweeteners to justify other poor health choices: “Well since I didn’t pour three spoonfuls of sugar in my coffee, I can have this Big Gulp of Dr. Pepper!” See what I mean? I basically always want a Snickers bar, whether I’ve sweetened my oatmeal with sugar or Splenda. It’s mind over matter in either case.
In an unsurprising conclusion, my approach to sweeteners is much like my approach to health in general: enjoy in moderation. I don’t like drinking my calories, so being able to have a cup of coffee (or multiple cups of coffee) without thinking about my caloric intake is great for me. And I’m probably always going to drink diet sodas over regular sodas, but I’m steadily decreasing the amount of soda I drink. Do what works for you, your health, and your journey to slenderhood.