My grandmother used to make the best "sweet tea" - 2 cups of sugar per gallon. Yummy! But, being conscious of my weight, I have always sweetened my beverages with whatever "zero calorie" sweetener was available. First, the pink stuff, then the blue, then the yellow, now the green. (What's next, purple?) I have my preferences, but I'm not too picky. So long as I can sweeten my tea and not gain any calories, where's the harm? Hhhmmmm....
As it turns out, they seem to be OK. Most research has determined that any initial concerns are unfounded. However, there is quite a bit unknown. First, artificial zero-calorie sweeteners don't meet my great-grandmother's definition of "food." Actually, I think they don't meet anyone's definition of "food." And, yet, we continue to develop, market, purchase, and use these products without having any idea what the long-term effects might be.
Let's start with a little history - do you know how artificial sweeteners started? Here's what WebMD.com writes:
In 1879, Ira Remsen, a researcher from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., noticed that a derivative of coal tar he accidentally spilled on his hand tasted sweet.So, saccharin (Sweet-n-Low) begins with coal tar. Yuck. But in the 1970's our love affair with artificial sweeteners is begun with the marketing of Tab and other diet soft drinks. Next comes aspartame (Equal), approved by the FDA in 1981. Sucralose (Splenda) received FDA approval in 1998, and is one of the few artificial sweeteners that can withstand heat. So you see it used in low-sugar baking. I've been using the big bags of this, one cup per gallon of tea every day for decades now. This was my first step in reducing my artificial sweetener intake. Sugar alcohols (anything ending in -ol, like xylitol and sorbitol) are usually less sweet and less caloric than sugar, but often cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Each person's experience is different. Stevia (Rebiana) came to the market in 2008, and claims to be "natural."
As our research continues, artificial sweeteners are considered to be generally safe to use in moderation. Ahhhh..... there's the rub. Is one cup of Splenda in my gallon of tea "moderation"? I have no idea. It's better than 2 cups and worse than 2 tablespoons.
"If somebody is trying to lose weight and cut back on calories, artificial sweeteners can add flavor to unsweetened beverages or other products," says Michael F. Jacobson, PhD, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in Washington. That said, "somebody who consumes a lot of artificially sweetened foods should think twice about their diet and ought to be eating real food," he tells WebMD.I like that last part: "somebody who consumes a lot of artificially sweetened foods should think twice about their diet and ought to be eating real food." That's me!
One of the big problems with artificial sweeteners is that they are MORE SWEET than sugar. For instance, a new sweetener called Neotame (made by the folks who make aspartame) is 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. (Health.com has a great article about 10 sweeteners.) Those are not typos. So, 1 teaspoon of Neotame equals about 10,000 teaspoons of sugar. So, when we drink sweetener instead of sugar, we save the calories but we teach our taste buds to crave REALLY SWEET drinks.