I agree with dietitian Andy Bellatti (quoted below by cbc) that junk food (or highly processed food) made with natural sugar or artificial sweeteners is still junk food.
"Even if (aspartame is) 100 per cent safe to use, it's still problematic from a nutrition standpoint," said Andy Bellatti, a registered dietitian based in Las Vegas who is critical of the food industry's marketing practices. Bellatti noted that foods and drinks aren't good for people just because they don't have any calories or have been shown to be safe. He added that ingredients such as aspartame only keep people hooked on sweets over more wholesome choices (cbc).It may be the other choices that people make along with their diet soda (sedentary lifestyle, high calorie foods with high levels of trans fat and/or saturated fat, and a lack of vitamins and minerals), the sugar craving that is just not satisfied with an artificial (or non-nutritive) sweetener or an over-consumption of an item which they have deemed 'healthy' because of the lack (or low) calorie level. There are many factors to consider.
Health Canada must approve all the artificial sweeteners that are sold in Canada. A sweetener has to undergo extensive research to show its safety and effectiveness before Health Canada will approve it for use. Once a sweetener is approved, Health Canada sets strict guidelines for how it can be used, as well as advice on Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) levels. Keep in mind that just because it is considered safe, doesn't mean that it's healthy.
Many people are consuming more sugar and/or sweeteners/substitutes than they may realize. The American Heart Association recommends that women keep added sugar to less than 6 tsp per day and men to less than 9 tsp per day. Whatever sugar or substitute you are choosing, moderation is key. A natural, organic, raw sugar or syrup is still contributing calories with little or no nutritional value (all sugars have similar calories). The Mayo Clinic is also in agreement with the idea of moderation:
When choosing sugar substitutes, it pays to be a savvy consumer. Get informed and look beyond the hype. While artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes may help with weight management, they aren't a magic bullet and should be used only in moderation. Just because a food is marketed as sugar-free doesn't mean it's free of calories. If you eat too many sugar-free foods, you can still gain weight if they have other ingredients that contain calories. And remember that processed foods, which often contain sugar substitutes, generally don't offer the same health benefits as do whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables.Sugar naturally occurs in fruit, vegetables, and milk products. Choose those wholesome foods to also get the benefit of antioxidants, fibre, vitamins, and minerals, rather than replacing them with artificially sweetened or naturally sweetened items. Be a smart shopper and familiarize yourself with the ingredient list. Sugars and sweeteners may appear as: honey, maple syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, icing sugar, molasses, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, sucralose, splenda, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sugar alcohols (xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, malitol), cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, and various "-ose" sugars (dextrose, sucrose, lactose, fructose, maltose, glucose).
You can find science based pros and cons (an un-researched proclamations), but you need to decide what's right for you. Artificial sweeteners may help people with diabetes to manage their blood sugar levels or may be sweet enough that you find you're using less. Sugar alcohols don't contribute to tooth decay and cavities and you may feel 'healthier' switching from sugar to agave, but your best bet is to kick the pop/sweet habit in the first place and start enjoying more nutritious options. In my perfect world we would have less sugar added to our food so that we could re-train our preferences and remember/enjoy the real taste of food.
Here's to eating food!
Steph Langdon, RD
something nutrishus counselling & coaching