Artificial Sweeteners: Are they safe?


Sweeteners have been available in Australia for many years, however there is still a lot of discussion over whether they are safe for consumption. They are commonly used to lower the caloric value of foods to assist with weight management, as well as to avoid raising blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

The Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) have deemed that artificial sweeteners are perfectly safe for human consumption. Each type of sweetener has an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) limit that defines the level of safety for consumption. For the majority of the population, staying within these ADI limits is easily achieved (ie. reaching the ADI for aspartame would require you to drink 12 cans of artificially sweetened soft drink per day).

Do they cause cancer?

Studies that examined the safety of commonly used sweeteners including Aspartame, Saccharin and Steviol Glycosides have all suggested that they are safe for human consumption. In particular, studies of aspartame and saccharin consumption in rats was linked to cancer, however, the rats were consuming well over the ADI, and have not been replicated in any other studies since.

Should everyone use artificial sweeteners instead of sugar then?

Artificial sweeteners can be useful to assist with weight management, in the context of an overall healthy diet. It is important that foods that contain artificial sweeteners should not replace other more nutritious choices. Foods that contain artificial sweeteners are also likely to be high in fat, and low in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

What is the message to take away from all this?

  • Artificial sweeteners should be consumed in moderation, and within the ADI.
  • The evidence isn’t strong either way to support or discourage the use of artificial sweeteners on a daily basis.
  • They may be useful if you are a diabetic, or wanting to manage your weight, in combination with an overall healthy diet.

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