Artificial Sweetener and Sugar: Which Is Healthier?

Here's a list of sweeteners and their pros and cons.
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It’s no secret—large quantities of sugar aren’t great for your body, from causing inflammation to increasing the chance of developing obesity and coronary heart disease.

Read: How Much Is Too Much Sugar?

According to the Malaysian Adult Nutrition Survey (MANS) 2002/2003, the average adult in Malaysia consumes 7 teaspoons of sugar a day, comprising 4 teaspoons of table sugar and 3 teaspoons of sweetened condensed milk added into beverages. This total amount of added sugar exceeds the recommendation of the World Health Organisation and Malaysian Dietary Guidelines that suggest a total daily intake of not more than 50g.

But are sugar substitutes any healthier? Is there a single best artificial sweetener? We turned to medical and nutrition pros for a common artificial sweeteners list and an honest, scientific breakdown of artificial sweeteners vs. sugar.

The Not-So-Sweet Side of Artificial Sweeteners vs. Sugar

It seems like a miraculous wish come true in a tiny, colourful packet. You can still enjoy your coffee nice and sweet without any extra calories. But over the years, valid arguments have formed stating artificial sweeteners can actually lead to weight gain.

“Artificial sweeteners stimulate our body to produce the weight gain hormone insulin, which causes the body to store calories as fat,” Morrison says. And although in previous statements, the American Heart Association (AHA) have claimed that non-nutritive sweeteners did have the potential to help people reach and maintain their goal weights, they also stated that the evidence was limited and therefore inconclusive.

Plus, many of the sugar substitutes found in diet foods and beverages are jam-packed with chemicals, which can put a strain on your immune system. “When we ingest these chemicals, our bodies need to work extra hard to metabolize them, leaving less resources to detoxify our bodies from the many chemicals we get exposed to in the environment,” says Dr. Jeffrey Morrison,  a physician and nutrition adviser for Equinox fitness clubs.

But when it comes to the sweet stuff, which are the worst offenders? What’s the best artificial sweetener? As you weigh the pros and cons of artificial sweeteners vs. sugar, read on for your guide to the best and worst on this artificial sweeteners list.

Aspartame

Sold under names like NutraSweet® and Equal®, aspartame is one of the more controversial and studied sweeteners on the market. In fact, “by 1994, 75 percent of all non-drug complaints to the FDA were in response to aspartame,” says Cynthia Pasquella-Garcia, a clinical nutritionist and holistic practitioner. Those gripes ranged from vomiting and headaches to abdominal pain and even cancer.

Aspartame vs. Sugar: Aspartame has zero calories and is often used for baking. It contains a broth of unfamiliar ingredients, such as phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol.

“The methanol from aspartame breaks down in the body to become formaldehyde, which is then converted into formic acid,” says Pasquella-Garcia. “This can lead to metabolic acidosis, a condition where there is too much acid in the body and leads to disease.” Even though aspartame’s link to health problems has been highly studied, there’s very little evidence to keep it off shelves. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set the accepted daily intake (ADI) at 50 mg/kg of body weight, which equals about 20 cans of aspartame-sweetened beverages for a 140-pound woman.

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