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Ditch the Diet Coke? 5 popular sweeteners from a nutrition expert’s perspective

Here is a deep dive into the most popular sweeteners on the market.

Many women are steering clear of added sugars, trying to maintain a healthier lifestyle. The most common solution often involves low-calorie sweeteners, seen as a guilt-free way to add sweetness to sodas, sports drinks, ice creams, and even protein powders. However, we’re still wondering: Are these sweeteners genuinely safe?

Studio 5 Health Contributor Miki Eberhardt shares a breakdown of five popular sweeteners you might see in your favorite treats.

Find more advice from Miki on Instagram, @nutritionbymiki.

 

What a Nutrition Expert Thinks About 5 Popular Sweeteners

Miki starts off by saying you can always find a study that says what you want to hear.

“The thing with a lot of these studies is you can probably find one that says what you want it to say,” she says. “One person will take a particular tidbit and run with it… and another person is going to take away something else.”

When looking at studies, it’s important to be aware of this fact to avoid misinformation.

1. Aspartame

Aspartame is what you’ll find in most of your diet sodas, including our favorite Diet Coke. Miki says it is the most researched sugar substitute on the market.

Miki says, “The International Agency for Research on Cancer took every study that had been done on aspartame, and went through it all with a fine tooth comb to come up with their recommendations based off of all the research. What they said was, ‘We are deeming aspartame possibly carcinogenic.'”

When it comes to your diet soda drinking, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives says the recommendation is 18 milligrams per pound of body weight per day is considered safe.

Miki says, bottom line, you can have your Diet Coke at lunch.

“But I also am going to make sure I’m getting my sleep and I’m fueling my body with good nutrition so that I’m not using the aspartame to get through the day,” she says.

But Miki also says, if possible, try to avoid aspartame.

“If there’s another choice of a beverage that has a different sweetener in it, and you like it, choose it.”

Sources:
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(23)00341-8/fulltext
https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/ninety-sixth-meeting-joint-fao-who-expert-committee-on-food-additives-(jecfa)

 

2. Stevia

Stevia is a naturally derived sweetener from a South American plant. When were rats exposed to high doses of Stevia, they did not exhibit tumor-related signs. Miki says Stevia is a natural and safe choice.

Source:
EFSA. 8:1537, 2010.

 

3. Monk Fruit

Monk fruit is a lesser known sweetener on the market. It’s a fruit grown in the sun in southern China, and it has been used in Chinese medicine as a cough suppressant. Miki explains that this fruit is recognized as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA.

“The bottom line with monk fruit is it appears to be safe. We don’t have a ton of research on it, but it has been around for a long time,” Miki says.

Source:
EFSA. 17:e5921, 2019.

 

4. Erythritol

Miki says Erythritol is the safest under the umbrella of sugar alcohols. She says its absorbs better into the small intestine, reducing the likelihood of gastrointestinal distress, which can be associated with other sugar alcohols.

“Erythritol is safe, it’s sweet, it is unlikely to cause GI issues. But in quantities that may be more than a few grams a day, it may cause some GI distress,” Miki summarizes.

Sources:
Adv. Nutr. 8:587, 2019.
Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 61: 349, 2007.
Vet. Clin. Small Anim. 48: 985, 2018.

 

5. Acesulfame Potassium (ACE K)

You’ll find Acesulfame Potassium (ACE K) in protein powders, diet drinks, and sugar-free syrups. There were a couple studies done on this sweetener where rats got cancer, but Miki says those studies were done poorly, and they don’t give us great insight into ACE K.

“Definitely more research needs to be done on this. Because there are other safer sweeteners, if there’s another alternative, I would choose that,” she says.

Miki emphasizes the importance of moderation, emphasizing that junk food is just simply that—junk. She doesn’t say real sugar is better than fake sugar, but she encourages balance, with the occasional indulgence in real sugar being a satisfying and acceptable option.

Sources:
J. Pediatr. Gastroenterol. Nutr 66:466, 2018.
J. Toxicol. Environ. Health 78: 1029, 2015.
Nutrients 2635, 2022.

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