Artificial sweeteners: Are sugar substitutes good for your health?

The verdict is still out on whether artificial sweeteners may have long-term health implications.

When it comes to losing weight and staying healthy, many people want ways to eat their cake and have it. One way to do that is replacing sugar with something that is just as sweet or even sweeter, but with zero calories. In comes artificial sweeteners.

The medical community is yet to reach a consensus on the long-term impacts of these artificial sweeteners on health, although many countries have approved several as safe to use. So is it safe to use these sugar substitutes?

How do they work?

Artificial sweeteners are chemicals added to food to provide sweetness without the calories, according to They work by triggering the same sensory cells in our taste buds that send signals to our brain when we taste something sweet, like sugar.

However, they are generally too different from sugar for your body to break them down into calories. This is how they provide a sweet taste without the added calories.

It’s why diet sodas, chewing gums, cakes, among others are marketed as zero-calorie products, although they taste just as sweet as their original versions. Sweeteners approved for use in the UK include, acesulfame K, aspartame, saccharin, sorbitol, sucralose, stevia and xylitol.

Getty/ Peter Dazeley

Are they safe?

The simple answer is yes, they are. Contrary to claims that the consumption of artificial sweeteners may cause cancer, both the Cancer Research UK and the US National Cancer Institute have said sweeteners do not cause cancer with the former stating:

Large studies looking at people have now provided strong evidence that artificial sweeteners are safe for humans.

Also, the NHS reassures consumers that all sweeteners in the UK and the EU undergo rigorous safety assessments before being approved for use in food and drink.

Although safe to use, sections of the medical community suggest the use of these sugar substitutes may stimulate appetite, potentially playing a role in weight gain and obesity. But more research is needed to ascertain this claim.

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