Will yeast rise in artificial sweeteners

Sugar substitutes: how healthy are xucker, stevia and co?

"The best alternative to sugar is less sugar," says Stefan Kabisch, study doctor at the German Institute for Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrücke. Instead of exchanging it, we should "just reduce it," advises the expert.

Not all sugar substitutes are created equal

While xylitol or erythritol, so-called sugar substitutes, are still quite similar to our household sugar, many sweeteners have practically no calories and are 100 to 1000 times sweeter than their counterparts. The industry therefore often uses them to advertise a leaner life. But are they really good for your health?

For the eleven sweeteners that are currently approved in the EU, including aspartame and stevia compounds, there is an ADI value (acceptable daily intake) that indicates how much of them can be consumed on a daily basis without having to fear health hazards. These values ​​are only about a hundredth of the amount at which no toxic effect would have been observed in animal experiments, explains Kabisch, who works in the working group for clinical nutrition in Potsdam-Rehbrücke. The safety factor 100 takes into account the differences between animals (mostly rats) and humans as well as the individual differences from animal to animal. Before approval, it would also be tested how additives behave in the human body, says Anja Roth from the Süßstoff-Verband e. V. The assessment of the health safety of a substance also takes sensitive groups such as children or pregnant women into account. The ADI values ​​set by the EU apply to daily and lifelong intake. "There is no risk of the ADI being temporarily exceeded," says Roth.

In a nutshell:

Sweeteners are chemically produced or industrially obtained compounds with extremely high sweetening power. You get by without calories, but strict maximum amounts apply. These include, for example, aspartame, cyclamate, saccharin or steviol glycosides.

Sugar substitutes have a similar or lower sweetness than table sugar (sucrose) and contain fewer calories. Most of them are carbohydrates or sugar alcohols such as xylitol or erythritol. There are no legally specified maximum quantities for them.

Sweeteners or Sugar substitutes is the generic term for sweeteners and sugar substitutes. The European Additive Ordinance defines all additives that are used to sweeten foods and table sweeteners as sweeteners. In the list of ingredients for prepackaged foods, they must either be named with their class name and designation (for example: sweetener: saccharin) or under their E number.

Kabisch sees it a little differently. Whether and how sweeteners change our metabolism - especially in the long term - is largely unknown, he says. Because while animals are only given the substances for a limited period of time, for example for four weeks, we may ingest them for a lifetime. For most sweeteners, the data is very mixed, says the doctor. But he does not assume that the potential for damage is particularly great: "Otherwise there would have been a strong, statistical signal for a long time." the substances are specifically tested for metabolic effects on humans. At the moment there are just that many for all substances. In addition, the studies are very different and therefore difficult to compare. "Sometimes only slim women, other times only overweight or exclusively young men were surveyed," criticized Kabisch.

Aspartame - sweet poison?

The sweetener aspartame is around 200 times sweeter than sugar - so you need very little of it to sweeten Diet Coke and other diet products. The substance has been approved in Europe since 1979. The WHO has set a limit of 50 milligrams, the EU even only 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight. In order to exceed this limit, one would have to drink several liters of lemonade containing aspartame every day. That sounds like a lot, but it isn't completely unrealistic, says Kabisch. Especially if you consume other products that contain aspartame or E 951, such as sweets, jams, canned goods or even vitamin supplements throughout the day.

The note "contains a source of phenylalanine" on food is, by the way, an unmistakable reference to aspartame or its derivatives. Our digestive enzymes break the compound down into the two amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Since aspartame is a methyl ester, it also releases methanol. Small amounts of it can detoxify our body well - in high doses the formaldehyde, which is produced when the alcohol is broken down, can cause headaches, dizziness and visual disturbances. And phenylalanine can also cause problems in excess - especially in people who suffer from the metabolic disease phenylketonuria. They cannot break down the amino acid - it accumulates in the brain and can cause severe developmental disorders and epilepsy. This disease affects one in around 8,000 newborns in Germany. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) gave the all-clear for healthy people in 2013: the sweetener and its breakdown products are harmless in the quantities used by industry.