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Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality healthcare, explores the ongoing debate regarding whether the consumption of artificial sweeteners poses health hazards.

If you’re trying to limit the amount of sugar and calories in your diet, you may resort to artificial sweeteners or other sugar replacements.

Various foods and beverages labelled as “sugar-free” or “diet” contain artificial sweeteners and other sugar replacements, including soft drinks and baked goods. What are all these sugar substitutes? And what role do they play in your diet?

Understanding artificial sweeteners and alternative sugars

Sugar substitutes are sweeteners used in place of traditional sugar (sucrose). Artificial sweeteners are only one sort of sugar replacement.

There are several sweeteners on the South African market, with Sorbitol, Xylitol, Acesulfame, Potassium, Aspartame, Saccharine, Stevia, and Sucralose being the most common. Mannitol and Maltitol are utilised in producing goods and are not sold separately as sweeteners.

The pros and cons of artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are chosen as an alternative to sugar because:

They can be used in baking or cooking

  • Artificial sweeteners have almost no calories and don’t cause weight gain
  • They are not associated with tooth decay or cavities.
  • They aren’t carbohydrates and generally don’t raise blood sugar levels.

“For decades, artificial sweeteners have been the subject of intensive scrutiny,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

“Critics of artificial sweeteners assert that they contribute to numerous health issues, including cancer. However, according to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies, no solid scientific evidence exists that any of the permitted artificial sweeteners cause cancer or other major health problems. Numerous studies demonstrate that, in moderation, artificial sweeteners are generally safe.”

The Food and Drug Administration has defined an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for each artificial sweetener. The ADI is the maximum amount of a substance considered safe for daily consumption throughout a lifetime. It’s essential for consumers not to exceed the recommended ADI.

Different Artificial Sweeteners 


Aspartame, a low-calorie sweetener created in 1965, tastes similar to sugar but is 200 times sweeter. It is unique among low-calorie sweeteners in that the body metabolises it to amino acids, aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and a minor quantity of ethanol.

In 1981, aspartame was authorised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in various foods. It has been hypothesised that aspartame’s interference with the function of rheumatoid factor can decrease joint pain and immobility caused by chronic inflammation.

It has also been argued that aspartame’s components can cause various health issues, including increased susceptibility to seizures, behaviour, mood, or cognitive function. However, there are no solid indications that aspartame can cause these problems.


Saccharin was discovered more than a century ago. It is typically used to enhance the flavour of toothpaste, diet foods and beverages, as it is 300 to 500 times sweeter than sugar.

According to limited studies, consuming saccharin-containing items may cause weight gain and obesity by interfering with core homeostatic and physiological processes. However, on the whole, sucralose is deemed safe for all population segments, including those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes.

Acesulfame Potassium

Acesulfame Potassium is a non-caloric sweetener found in numerous products. The US FDA approved acesulfame K for non-alcoholic beverages in 1998 and awarded permission for general use in 2003.

The Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), a scientific advisory council for the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, assessed the evidence and found that acesulfame K is safe.


Neotame is a no-calorie sweetener derived from the dipeptide composed of aspartic acid and phenylalanine amino acids. The components of neotame are combined to create a distinct sweetener. Neotame is approximately 8000 times sweeter than table sugar and 40 times sweeter than aspartame.

Neotame is chemically similar to aspartame but more chemically stable, making it suitable for usage in baked goods. However, it may also be employed as a flavouring agent in other types of food. It was approved by the U.S. FDA in 2002, although its use is still uncommon.


Stevia is produced from the South American herb Stevia Rebaudiana, which has been used to sweeten liquids and create tea in Paraguay for generations. Rebaudioside A is one sweetening chemical found in the stevia plant. The steviol glycosides meet the JECFA’s purity requirements (WHO). The clinical investigations demonstrate that stevia sweeteners do not influence blood pressure or blood glucose response, indicating they are safe for people with diabetes to consume.

Recent studies, including human intake, metabolism, and toxicity studies, support the safety of stevia sweeteners. Based on published research, independent scientific experts from the United States and worldwide have agreed that stevia sweeteners are safe for persons of all ages. Stevia has an extremely low acute toxicity and no known adverse responses.


Several scientific studies are conducted to determine the safety of artificial sweeteners, which regulatory agencies subsequently approve. Some substances are also approved with warning labels.

“If you’re concerned about whether an artificial sweetener is safe and its potential side effects, always read the warnings and recommended daily allowance on the product. Consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns,” concludes Hewlett.

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