When saccharin first arrived on the market in the early 1870s it was hailed as a miracle alternative to regular sugar, which was quickly becoming seen as a major health threat. Health problems and weight issues associated with eating refined sugar were just becoming understood, and this new artificial sweetener seemed to do the same job, while providing zero calories and posing no health risk.
However, as time went on it was discovered that one of the ingredients in saccharin was benzoic sulfilimine, and it was discovered that this substance caused bladder problems in rodents. Warning labels went all over any product containing saccharin until in the 1970s it was discovered that rodents have a different blood pH level than humans, which is what caused the bladder issues.
Likewise many other sugar substitutes have come under fire for being harmful or cancer causing, but most of these claims have led to no conclusive evidence against the sweetener producers.
Artificial sweeteners have been no strangers to medical controversy and public wariness. Some of them are rumored to cause cancer, while others have been linked to hyperactivity in children. So which chemicals should you look out for, and which are acceptable substitutes for sugar in your daily diet? Let’s take a look at some of the more commonly used sugar substitutes available.
As mentioned above, saccharin was the earliest commercially available artificial sweetener, and is still available in some places. There are no known negative effects to using saccharin, and it has virtually no nutritional value, making it good to use on cereal and in coffee and tea as a low-calorie substitute.
Aspartame is far more common these days, and is found in many non-nutritive sweeteners and candy products. Aspartame has been accused of being linked to cancer, but as one of the most studied food additives in history it has repeatedly been cleared of any risk to consumers. It is characterised by its slightly bitter aftertaste.
Sucralose is a type of chlorinated sugar that is 600 times sweeter than sucrose. Sucralose is the main ingredient in the popular sugar substitute Splenda. There was much controversy over Splenda’s marketing angle, “It tastes like sugar, because it’s made from sugar.” Sucralose is actually produced via a chemical process involving sucrose or raffinose. There have been some claims that the chlorination process includes carcinogenic (cancer causing) chemicals which may be harmful to humans.
Cyclamate was an early sugar substitute that has been banned in the United States since the 1970s after it was linked directly with bladder cancer in rats.
Lead acetate, or sugar of lead, was an artificial sweetener that was used as far back as ancient Roman times. Unfortunately for the Romans, ingestion of lead acetate over a moderate period will usually lead to lead poisoning, which can be fatal.
While sugar free substitutes maybe calorie free, consider possible long term consequences of using them.