Health Blog

Artificial sweeteners that won’t compromise your health

Posted in Health Articles by Pulse Health Screening on April 30, 2010
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With summer approaching, many of us are trying to lose those extra winter-pounds. One of the best ways to do this is to cut sugar from your diet. However, with numerous health risks associated with artificial sweeteners, it’s difficult to find a sugar substitute that won’t harm your health and still adds a bit of taste to your food.

Aspartame, for instance, is an artificial sweetener which, once consumed, breaks down into three components – aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol. Aspartame has been passed as fit to consume by more than 100 countries around the World, but there is mounting evidence that each of it’s chemical components can have toxic effects on health.

Some researchers believe that it is an addictive neurotoxin that may cause a wide range of neuroendocrine disrupting and carcinogenic (cancer causing) effects. The amino-acid-based compound breaks down to create toxic by-products, namely formaldehyde, formic acid and aspartylphenylalanine diketopiperazine (DKP), the latter being associated with an increased rate of brain tumours in animal studies. Unfortunately, research exposing these truths has been swept aside in the face of corporate pressure – yet another scientific travesty…

(Read more of the shocking saga about Aspartame at

So, what are the healthy, safe and natural alternatives that will leave a sweet taste in your mouth without adding inches to your waistline?

Stevia – the new kid on the block

Stevia, the all natural sweetener, has enjoyed a lot of attention lately and it is said to be 300 times sweeter than cane sugar.

The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) scientific panel on additives, the ANS Panel, has assessed the safety of steviol glycosides and established an acceptable daily intake for their safe use.

Steviol glycosides are intense sweeteners extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni). These substances, such as stevioside and rebaudioside, range in sweetness from 40 to 300 times sweeter than sucrose.

Toxicological testing by the EFSA showed that stevioside and rebaudioside are not geno-toxic, nor carcinogenic, or linked to any adverse effects on the human reproductive system. They also don’t hold any dangers for the developing child. The ANS Panel set an acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 4mg per kg body weight per day for steviol glycosides, a level consistent with that already established by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).

The ANS Panel points out, however, that this ADI could be exceeded by both adults and children if these sweeteners are used at the maximum levels proposed.

Full regulatory approval for stevia-derived sweeteners throughout Europe is expected from the European Commission some time next year.

(Meanwhile, Stevia is permitted to be sold as a nutritional supplement so it is possible to purchase it on the internet as a powder)

While the jury is still out on Stevia – although initial findings look promising – waiting until next year for it to gain approval, needn’t leave you without a safe and effective sugar substitute in the meantime. Over to…

Xylitol – low-glycaemic sugar alternative that helps prevent tooth-decay

Xylitol is a white crystalline sweetener that occurs naturally in berries, fruits, vegetables, mushrooms and birch trees. In fact, in Finland it is known as “birch sugar” because the principal raw ingredient is xylan or wood fibre. It is even found naturally in our bodies, and has been shown to be completely non-toxic and safe to take.

Recently, Xylitol has become very popular as a sugar substitute because it has been shown to help reduce tooth decay and even help reverse it when it is already present.

HSI Panellists have been reviewing exciting new research about Xylitol — present in a number of health products, most notably Orbit sugar-free gum. Their conclusion is that Xylitol provides incredible health benefits, particularly its ability to help maintain good oral hygiene – it prevents both tooth decay and harmful plaque from building up on your teeth, which in turn protects your gums.

Xylitol’s ability to protect gums is due to the fact that unlike most natural sugars, it contains 5 carbon atoms per molecule instead of 6.

“5-carbon sugars are not that common in nature, so when types of oral bacteria try to break down Xylitol they find they are unable to process it. It ‘blocks’ them up and has an inhibiting effect on their activities,” according to Nicholas Dunning, business director of Danisco Sweeteners, a company that makes Xylitol.

It’s well known that consuming large amounts of sugar greatly increases your risk of tooth decay. This is because oral bacteria thrive on sugar. The main culprit is a bacterium called Streptococcus mutans.

This bacterium consumes sugars and excretes acid into your mouth, which is what damages your teeth and causes decay. Fortunately, Xylitol is especially effective against Streptococcus mutans.

In addition, clinical studies have shown that Xylitol has a long-term protective effect against tooth decay — its effects persist long after you have chewed gum. “It seems that Xylitol modulates the oral bacteria to make them less virulent,” Mr Denning adds.

More added benefits from weight loss to diabetes

The benefits of Xylitol don’t stop at oral hygiene but are much more far-reaching. One of these is the fact that Xylitol is both a low-glycaemic sweetener and alkalizing to the body, making it an ideal sugar substitute for those on weight-loss diets and for those wanting optimum health without the “sugar-blues”. As it is low-glycaemic, it has also become popular with those interested in combating Syndrome X (metabolic syndrome) and diabetes sufferers.

Diabetics can use Xylitol safely, because it is metabolised independently of insulin and doesn’t trigger the pancreas to release insulin into the blood supply. However, it is important to note that Xylitol is not a zero-calorie sweetener and needs to be integrated sensibly into any special diabetic diet — check with your doctor.

Xylitol has the same sweetness as sugar but only 60 per cent of the calories. For this reason, in some countries Xylitol is not only used in chewing gums and toothpastes but also in confectionery.

Products that contain Xylitol include: Boots dental gum and dental mints, a range of Orbit chewing gums, Tesco mouthwashes and Totalcare Fresh Breath Spray from Superdrug.

(Xylitol is available from some supermarkets, health food shops or via the internet.)

Source: HSI Newsletter 30/04/10


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