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Artificial sweeteners are they safe to drink?

Dieters everywhere wonder about the affects of artificial sweeteners in soft drinks. Are they as bad for your health as sugar-sweetened drinks? Do they make you fat? Should you be drinking two or three aspartame laden drinks every day? Is it better to drink the real stuff?

Unfortunately, science doesn't have all the answers yet. Now, we all know all of these questions are irrelevant to some of you out there who have already made the transition, replacing all sodas with water, but for those of you still struggling to give up the sweet delights of soft drinks this discussion is for you.

So what’s in those artificial sweeteners and should I care?

According to a new report from CNN today, “There are five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners, and each of them has a different chemical makeup. There's sucralose (Splenda), acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One), aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), neotame, and saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet'N Low).”

According to the American Cancer Society, Aspartame is composed of two amino acids: aspartic acid and phenylalanine. ACS notes that Splenda, however, is “created by replacing hydrogen and oxygen in sugar molecules with chlorine atoms.”

But are the artificial sweeteners better than natural sweeteners? Not if your argument is that they are less processed. For instance, although fruit juices and nectars, molasses, honey and maple syrup may be “natural,” they still undergo significant processing and refining, according to the Mayo Clinic.

And although there is not a lot of difference in processing for artificial and “natural sweeteners,” experts suggest that artificial sweeteners allow the body to detect the sweet taste of the sugar in smaller quantities because the receptors in the body which detects sweetness is better equipped to detect artificial sweetener. This means it will take less artificial sweetener to get the same effect as real sugar.

What about cancer and artificial sweeteners?

Now the real question is whether or not artificial sweeteners cause cancer. There have been studies using rats that found a causal relationship between extremely high doses of artificial sweeteners, specifically saccharin and bladder cancer, but scientists later discovered the “mechanism” that caused the cancer wasn't even possible in the human body.

There have also been questions about aspartame. Studies which were completed in 2005 did indicate that rats that were given high doses of aspartame (which would be equal to consuming an equivalent of 2,000 cans of diet soda every day) did have a higher incidence of developing lymphoma or leukemia. But that’s a lot of soda, and scientists are still not certain of the affects of much smaller doses in the human body.

Should I give up real sugar for artificial sweeteners?

Scientists still don’t know if it’s better to consume real sugar are artificial sweeteners. Some experts suggest are there are different advantages and disadvantages to each drink. Obviously, real sugary drinks have much higher calories while diet drinks may not taste as good as the real thing.

So what is the best solution? Now, that’s an easy question to answer. The healthiest people are those who limit their intake of both artificial sweeteners and sugar. If this seems like an impossibility, experts suggest “ingesting no more than 50 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight every day. That amounts to 22 cans of diet soda for a 175-pound man, and 15 cans for a 120-pound woman.” That still sounds pretty high to me. Why not try just one?
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