By Sonya Mitchell
Every morning Sarah Steinberg ‘’08 stops at Starbucks for a cup of coffee. After receiving the cup, she opens the lid and pours a couple of packs of Splenda in it. Sarah has no idea whether or not this routine is unhealthy, and, if so, whether or not it will cause future problems.
“I put Splenda in my coffee because it tastes like sugar but it”’s not fattening,” Steinberg said.
Nowadays, when many artificial sweeteners are available, many students like Steinberg use them, oftentimes unaware of the implications.
“I don’t advocate the use of artificial sweeteners for any of my clients,” owner of the private practice NutritionWise, Encino-based dietician Nicole Meadow, MPN, RD, said. “They are unnecessary and the research is not yet conclusive. A lot of stuff is found to be safe initially and then after a while it turns out to be harmful.”
Most often, people substitute Splenda for sugar or diet soda for soda because they are attempting to lose weight. In this case, Meadow suggests that dieters should focus on decreasing their calorie intake.
NBC news reported that Purdue University researchers compared rats that were fed food with the artificial sweetener saccharin, which Sweet’N Low contains, with rats fed food with natural sugar. The research determined that rats that ate the saccharin put on more weight and body fat. The researchers concluded that the body gets confused when sweetness consumed via artificial sweeteners is not then followed by a substantial amount of calories, which can consequently lead to eating more.
“There is something about diet foods that changes your metabolic limit, your brain chemistry,” ABC News medical contributor Dr. Marie Savard said, according to Natural News.
Lauren Gaba ‘08 also has an addiction to an artificial sweetener: Diet Coke.
“I’m down to one a day, but I used to drink about four or five a day,” Gaba said.
Gaba decreased her consumption of the drink because she had heard that the aspartame in the drink caused cancer.
A new study by Environmental Health Perspectives suggests that artificial sweetener causes cancer in rats when they are subjected to levels of artificial sweeteners which are currently approved for humans, Science Daily reports. When rats were given varying doses of aspartame, the second most popular artificial sweetener in the world, there was a noticeable increase in occurrence of malignant tumors, lymphomas and leukemia, according to a study in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal.
This demonstration of the effects of aspartame on rats resulted in a critical examination of the current guidelines for the utilization of aspartame.
“It tastes a lot better than regular Coke, plus the fact that it has zero calories makes it pretty appealing,” Gaba said. “None of my friends give me a hard time about it because they are all equally as obsessed.”
Although the research indicates (but does not prove) that artificial sweeteners may cause cancer, users overlook the reports.
“I try not to think about it because basically everything is bad for you and causes cancer,” Steinberg said.
“Everyone is looking right now at things in the environment that are causing cancer, but a lot of it is in one’s everyday food supply,” Meadow said. “Some of it could be from artificial sweeteners, so people should try to get back to the natural.”
However, some feel they can’t because they want to keep the weight off so they must substitute ‘fake’ food for real food with calories.” However, this too seems to be a problem.
“Artificial sweeteners are a lot sweeter than regular food and they end up tricking your body so that you crave more sweet things all the time instead of just having a bite of a cookie and being done with it,” Meadow said.
When Melissa Saphier ‘08 saw an online video discussing a study that reported artificial sweeteners cause your body to release insulin, which results in an insulin imbalance, she cut sugar substitutes out of her diet.
“I’m not really sure if it’s true or not but I just figured since your body really doesn’t need artificial sweeteners, I might as well just cut it out,” Saphier said. “I just stopped putting Splenda in my drinks and I stopped having diet soda.”
Regardless, it seems that the controversy over artificial sweeteners is not yet settled because the studies are constantly changing. Even Meadow recognizes that there are some dieticians who recommend the use of artificial sweeteners.
“If I had 100 percent proof that they were bad for you I would probably stop using them, but I just don’t believe all the studies because they are always changing,” Steinberg said.