Bite into a little dessert, which satisfies our desire for sweetness and at the same time does not load us up with calories. This is everyone's dream, a dream that was also possible thanks to the replacement of sugar with artificial sweeteners. The problem is that these sweeteners increase the risk of developing cellular degeneration and therefore tumors, as emerges from a very recent scientific research published in PLOS Medicine by a French team from the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm) and Sorbonne Paris Nord University (Debras et al, PLOS Medicine, 2022).
Too much sugar is bad, but what about artificial sweeteners?
Too much sugar is bad, increases body weight and the risk of obesity, paves the way for cardiovascular disease, cellular degeneration and even tooth decay. However, desserts are loved and so the food industry has turned to artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, or E951, acesulfame K, or E950, and sucralose, or E955, just to name a few. These sweeteners have the characteristic of having a sweetening power from 200 to 600 times greater than sugar and much fewer calories. Therefore, it is sufficient to use it in small quantities, well below those of sugar, to obtain a product that can claim to have no added sugar, with fewer calories and equally sweet. Often then artificial sweeteners are added to foods that would not normally need to be sweetened, such as soups, sauces or salty snacks, just to improve their palatability. But do artificial sweeteners have health effects? The topic is much debated. In fact, it is hypothesized that these substances may increase the risk of developing cancer in the long term, but until now there was no solid study that could shed light on it.
Artificial sweeteners increase the risk of cancer, the study
It is for this purpose that the French researchers have developed the study we are talking about today. Scientists drew on data collected from a large, still ongoing study, NutriNet Santè, which began in 2009. More than 100,000 people have participated over the years providing data on their lifestyle, health and nutrition, specifying the products that were consumed and the brand. The researchers were thus able to derive the amount of artificial sweeteners consumed and compared this with the health conditions of the volunteers. Well, what has emerged is that those who consume high quantities of products containing artificial sweeteners have, compared to those who do not consume foods of this type, a greater risk of developing cancer, especially breast and cancers in which obesity is considered one risk factors, such as stomach, liver, pharynx, larynx, ovary, endometrium and prostate. Not only that, among the different sweeteners tested, the greatest risk of cellular degeneration is linked to aspartame and acesulfame K.
The study therefore does not support the use of artificial sweeteners as sugar substitutes. Perhaps it is appropriate to get the palate used to taste and aroma again, trying to abandon the idea that good means sweet at all costs, when sweetness often covers the other flavors. Reducing the amount of sugar, trying to regain possession of the flavors, where possible eliminate the sugar and replace it with dates or pure fruit juice, these are the only alternatives to the excessive use of sugar, and not to resort to artificial sweeteners. And then, it is also important to read the labels of the foods we buy and, at times, even have the courage to give up foods that, due to the ingredients they contain, may be delicious but that are not good for our health. In any case, we add that it is not a food consumed once and that perhaps contains sweeteners such as aspartame to increase the risk of cellular degeneration, but a continuous and prolonged intake of these substances over time. The problem is not an exception to the rule but the habit.