Culture / Healthcare

Sugar, Fake Sugar, Sugar That Will Give You Cancer

Pink, blue, yellow, green, white: what is your sweetener of choice? I just avoid adding it to my daily morning coffee completely. I see the real stuff as unnecessary calories in my day and the others as chemical substances that may give me cancer.

The association of artificial sweeteners with cancer started in the 1970’s when the FDA sought to ban it after rats fed large amounts of saccharin developed bladder cancer. Saccharin was added to the US National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens in 1981, but was delisted in 2000 when the mechanism that causes the tumors in rats was found to not be relevant in humans.

Despite concerns that artificial sweeteners might have negative health effects, people continue to purchase and consume billions of those little packets every year; globally, artificial sweeteners are a $1.5 billion-a-year market. So what is the difference between the color packets and what are the known facts about each type of sweetener?  Along with table sugar, common types of sugar substitutes are listed below:

Hundreds of millions of people drink diet soda and consume “sugar-free” food products and so far, there has been no widespread health catastrophe. But trans fats, which have been used since the early 1900’s, did not become a health concern until the 1990’s. Furthermore, cigarettes have a mix of over 7,000 chemicals and those who develop lung cancer from smoking, usually do not get the disease until later in life.

It seems that for every study that comes out touting the health benefits of artificial sweeteners, there is a corresponding study that says the opposite. Dr. Gary Williams, a professor of pathology at New York Medical College, says that “based on conventional food safety considerations, the scientific community feels that these [artificial sweeteners] have been very adequately tested for any potential toxicities”. Dr. Williams notes that because artificial sweeteners are much more intensely sweet than sugar, and since most of the white stuff in each packet is filler, people consume very little in comparison to the doses given to lab animals in safety tests.

The verdict is still out on the long-term effects of sugar substitutes and it may be decades before we know their health implications. Of course there is no health advantage to consuming added sugar of any type. As in everything in life, moderation seems to be key.