Artificial Sweeteners: The Bittersweet Reality

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In an age of obesity and sedentary lifestyles, individuals quickly accept easy ways to promote better health. Over the last several decades, many fad diets have come and gone, and hundreds of diet pills have been on and off the shelves. For years, a popular measure taken to help trim the waistline has been the consumption of artificial sweeteners. Replacing sugar in everything from soda to pudding mix, sugar substitutes are widely used to provide sweetness without providing calories. While artificial sweeteners tempt the public with sugar-free sweetness, their use poses confirmed risks for serious health problems. Artificial sweeteners, also known as nonnutritive or alternative sweeteners, have been popular providers of sweetness since the 1950s. There are currently five forms of artificial sweeteners approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, acesulfame potassium, and neotame, each varying in composition and nutritional value. Artificial sweeteners are most commonly known for their use in diet sodas or flavored waters, but most can be used to replace sugar in anything. They are widely available in stores worldwide and found in packets on the tables of most restaurants. All of these FDA-approved sweeteners are considered “unnatural,” even though some are made from real sugar (Kovacs). The creation process of artificial sweeteners is unique to each form. Regardless of how it is created, each form of nonnutritive sweetener has reasons for health concerns. Aspartame, first introduced in 1965, is the most controversial and most widely used artificial sweetener, found in over six thousand products. Sold under brand names such as Equal or NutraSweet, it provides very few calories and is 160-220 times sweeter than sugar (Kovacs). Despite its wide range of use, aspartame comes with many health concerns. Since 1980, the FDA has

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