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Yes, too much sugar is harmful but are artificial sweeteners the answer?

Yes, too much sugar is harmful but are artificial sweeteners the answer?

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Some experts say to slay the "sweetness dragon"

How much sugar should we eat? The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that added sugars make up no more than 10 percent of your daily calorie intake. (Added sugar is sweetness not from the food itself, like raisons.) The recommendations mean that someone on a typical 2,000 calorie a day diet should only derive 200 calories a day from sugar—equal to one, 16-ounce soda. Yet most Americans consume at least twice the recommended amount and few people who have the soda “habit” only drink one soft drink a day.

Once upon a time, “sugar” meant sugar from sugar cane or sugar beets. But since 1980, soft drink producers have favored high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and they have been followed by most major food producers and processors. Trade restrictions in other countries to protect local sugar production made sugar more expensive to use even as U.S. farmers were growing copious amounts of corn because of farm subsidies.  HFCS is also cheaper to produce, store and ship.

While many say HFCS does not taste the same as the “real” sugar it replaced, the most concerning issue with HFCP is its links to obesity, diabetes, liver damage, memory problems and even possible mercury contamination. A Harvard study found men who drank the most sugar-sweetened sodas, mostly with HFCS, were 20 percent more likely to suffer coronary heart disease. The finding was true regardless of  their age, diet, family history, smoking or alcohol. Almost ninety percent of U.S. corn is also genetically modified.

As HFCS has become a bad guy, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Gatorade, Ocean Spray cranberry juice, Snapple, Wheat Thins, Kraft, Starbucks, Pizza Hut and other food producers have rolled out HFCS-free products. But the HFCS trade group, the Corn Refiners Association, fought back. It launched an ad campaign called "your body can't tell the difference" (meaning the difference between HFCS and sugar) that was so over the top, it was spoofed on Saturday Night Live.

Naturally, the questions about HFCS have driven sales of artificial sweeteners but the safety of artificial sweeteners is not completely established either. “Scientists disagree about the relationships between sweeteners and lymphomas, leukemias, cancers of the bladder and brain, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, autism, and systemic lupus,” wrote the American Association of Occupational Nurses journal. The substances may have undesirable effects on glucose regulation, the journal added.

Nor are artificial sweeteners necessarily even effective in reducing obesity.  An increase in the use of aspartame, found in Diet Coke, and sucralose, found in Pepsi One, actually correlated with a rise the number of people who are obese reported the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.

So how can people enjoy something sweet without the risks of HFCS and chemical artificial sweeteners? They can pursue agave nectar, erythritol (from melons, pears and grapes, monk fruit), tagatose, a milk sugar and stevia, a sweet plant found in the tropics. But be aware that just because a food contains a natural sweetener does not mean it is free from controversial sweeteners too. Manufacturers can add aspartame, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame potassium (also called Ace K) and even HFCS to improve its taste, cut costs or both. Those seeking more natural sweeteners need to be beware.

Health professionals and nutritionists give different advice, however. Rather than seeking new sweeteners they advise people to "slay the sweetness dragon" by avoiding sweets all together for at least two weeks. A sweetness “holiday” will revive your taste buds to enjoy foods in ways you may be never have before, they say.


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We’d like to clarify the inaccurate claims featured here. First, both regular and diet soft drinks and their ingredients have been extensively tested, reviewed and deemed safe by science. That's precisely why regulatory agencies around the globe approve these beverages.

Second, a substantial body of research, including human clinical trials, supports that beverages that contain low- and no-calorie sweeteners are an effective tool as part of an overall weight loss or weight management plan. In fact, even a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and authored by a vocal industry critic confirms that these beverages can be an important tool in helping reduce calories.

And third, this article largely criticizes beverages due to sugar content, but importantly, CDC data confirms that food, not beverages is the top contributor of added sugars in the U.S. diet. With that said, America’s leading beverage companies agree that we should all be mindful of the calories we consume from beverages, which is why we are providing more reduced-calorie options and calorie counts to help people make the choice that’s right for them. Moreover, our industry is committed to being a part of real solutions with initiatives like Balance Calories, which aims to reduce beverage calories in the American diet by 20 percent nationally by 2025 by offering more lower- and no-calorie choices and smaller sizes and then finding ways to get people to try them.

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