Are artificial sweeteners safe for consumption?
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
First of all, what are artificial sweeteners? Artificial sweeteners are used to provide a sweet taste to food and drinks in the place of sugar (sucrose). They are commonly found in no added sugar soft drinks, energy drinks, confectionary, frozen desserts, chewing gum, yoghurts or as table-top sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners contain less or no calories than sugar and can be up to 600 times sweeter than sugar, therefore are used in very small quantities.
There are eleven types of artificial sweeteners liscenced for use in the UK, with the most commonly known being saccharin, sucralose, acesulfame K (ace-K) and aspartame.
Are they safe for consumption?
In the EU, rigorous safety tests are conducted on all artificial sweeteners used in food and drinks before approval by the European Commission. There are Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) levels set for each sweetener. For example, the daily limit for aspartame is equivalent to 15 cans of diet coke. Current reviews have suggested that artificial sweeteners are safe for consumption among children and adults if consumed within the ADIs. Studies have shown the average intake of sweeteners in the EU to be below the ADI, even amongst high consumers.
However, it is important to note that artificial sweeteners are not permitted for use in foods for infants and young children under the age of 3 years. Young children require energy-dense, nutritious food for optimal growth and development, hence low-calorie sweeteners are not be suitable.
Consumers with a rare genetic condition called phenylketonuria (PKU), whereby break down of the amino acid phenylalanine is inhibited, should not consume aspartame. Products containing aspartame are labelled on the back of the packet.
Will they increase the risk of cancer?
There has been widespread media concern on the link between artificial sweeteners and cancer. Cancer Research UK state that there is no strong evidence in humans that artificially sweetened drinks are a cause of cancer.
So, artificial sweeteners are safe to consume (within ADIs) as a part of a healthy balanced diet, though are not advised for children under the age of 3 years. As artificial sweeteners are not processed by the body in the same way as sugar, they may confer benefits on blood sugar control and dental health when replacing sugar.