This week we start a series looking at what products in our food that are usually labeled “artificial”, “additive”, or “synthetic”. We’re starting off looking at something that you can find in almost every restaurant, coffee shop, and in most of your cupboards- artificial sweeteners. We talked to Dr. Richard Mattes, a scientist in the Department of Nutrition Science at Purdue University to find out why we use these sweeteners, what they do to our body, and are they hurting us?
“Artificial is an unfortunate term- some of them are not natural products, but some of the compounds that fall into this class are natural products, like Stevia.”
“We tend to talk about all these sweeteners…like they’re all the same…but, in fact, they’re all very distinct chemical structures. Those structures bind to the sweet receptor in different locations and that results in different sensory profiles, different intensities, and different times courses and that translates into a difference in how we digest them…Pretty much everything is different in between them.”
“We used to think low calorie sweeteners were inert after we swallowed them- they had no activity anymore- but now that we know there’s a receptor for them further down the gastrointestinal tract that question becomes of interest again.”
“Our study would suggest there are differences in how we respond to each of these sweetness, but the science to date would suggest that overall they are associated with a reduction in body weight.”
“In terms of safety, almost every food regulatory body in nations across the globe have studied these compounds excessively. And they have unanimously agreed that when used in moderation, they pose no increased risk for cancer, for example.”
“What causes traffic accidents? Automobiles or drivers? It’s not the car that’s getting people into accidents- it’s the user. The efficacy of low calorie sweeteners is going to be determined by how they are used (supplementing vs. replacing), not by their specific property.”
Find out more about Dr. Mattes and his work here.
Check out Gastropod’s episode on artificial sweeteners! You’ll hear again from Dr. Mattes and also several other experts.