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Sweeteners and Heart Disease: Is There a Link?

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Some recent studies associate consumption of sweeteners with an increased risk of heart disease. Why is this happening? We will take a look at it in this article.

In recent years, sweeteners have been in the eye of the storm for their possible connection to an increased risk of heart disease. These substances are the ones that give a sweet taste to food and drink. The most famous of these are sugar or sucrose, but there are also artificial versions with the same purpose.

The downside is that regular intake is not as safe as previously thought. Today, it is considered that for the sake of health it is best to limit their presence in the diet as much as possible. Let’s take a look at what science says about their relationship to heart health and how to reduce consumption.

What are sweeteners and what categories are there?

Sweeteners are substances that give products a sweet taste and take as a reference standard the sweetness that sugar gives. They can be synthetic or natural; in addition, there are nutritious and non-nutritive sweeteners. The latter contain little or no calories, while the nutritious ones contain more calories.

Natural sweeteners

  • Sucrose or cane sugar
  • Honey
  • Coconut sugar
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • Inverted sugar
  • Sorbitol
  • Malta
  • Stevia
  • Datum
  • Luo han guo fruktextrakt

Synthetic or artificial sweeteners

  • Aspartame
  • Sucralos
  • Saccharin
  • Neotum
  • Acesulfame
  • Advantam

Although this classification exists, the term “sweetener” usually refers to artificial products. And although their purpose is to reduce the risk of health problems associated with excessive consumption of sugar or sucrose – such as obesity or a tendency to caries – their regular presence in the diet has been a source of controversy .

Sweeteners and heart disease: What effect do they have on our health?

For several years, studies have been carried out on various sweeteners for better knowledge of their effects on our health. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared that most substances of this type are safe.

The fact is that in several investigations, it has been established that their toxicity and the occurrence of various diseases that have been linked to them are relatively low. Therefore, they have been approved for sale.

However, recent reports suggest a possible link between the use of sweeteners and an increased risk of heart disease. In a study published in 2022 in the journal BMJ, researchers found that regular intake of these substances really increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The study, conducted in France with 103,388 volunteers, of whom 79.8% were women, examined dietary intake and consumption of artificial sweeteners. They analyzed the results with diet plan records, as well as the industrial products that each consumed.

The average intake of artificial sweeteners in one group was about 78 milligrams per day. There were others with a low intake of about 8 milligrams per day. There was also a group of people who did not consume these substances.

It found that the total intake of artificial sweeteners could be linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, with 1502 cases. In fact, it could also be linked to an increased risk of cerebrovascular disease, with 777 cases.

Aspartame intake was associated with an increased risk of cerebrovascular events. In turn, acesulfame potassium and sucralose corresponded to an increased risk of coronary artery disease.

Because the study was observational, causation could not be determined. But the researchers instead took into account other variables such as lifestyle factors that could cause an increase in heart disease mortality.

From this point of view, the researchers argue that – even with these adjustments – there are signs of risk in the use of sweeteners. Other researchers who have analyzed the same phenomenon agree with the hypothesis.

Possible reasons why sweeteners may lead to heart disease

Another study analyzing the risks of sweetener consumption shows that the possible connection with cardiovascular disease is due to the fact that foods containing sweeteners lead to weight gain. Thus, it is a trigger for people who are overweight or have obesity.

The analysis also showed that excessive consumption of sweeteners is associated with a higher incidence of stroke only among obese individuals. However, all-cause mortality was also found to increase with frequent consumption in individuals of normal weight.

The hypothesis that consumption of artificial sweeteners causes cravings and sugar addiction thus seems to be correct. This in turn has an impact on appetite stimulation and weight gain, which is closely linked to heart disease.

How to limit your intake of artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are widely used in the food industry. They are used not only to replace sugar but because some are sweeter than sucrose. Processed foods that contain it are the following:

  • Soda
  • Powdered drink mixes
  • Sweets in general
  • Canned food
  • Jam and jelly
  • Dairy products
  • Desserts, pastries, and confectionery

To limit your consumption of artificial sweeteners, you should carefully read the labels of these mentioned foods. The three sweeteners of particular concern are acesulfame potassium (acesulfame K), sucralose, and aspartame, and you should cut back on these. Since 2018, the FDA has listed the following recommended intakes for these three sweeteners.

  • Acesulfame K: Max 15 milligrams
  • Sucralose: Max 5 milligrams
  • Aspartame : Max 50 milligrams

Use other types of sweeteners

There are other types of natural sweeteners that are safe for health – such as Luo Han Guo fruit extract, honey, stevia, and coconut sugar. The FDA does not yet have a limit on the consumption of Luo Han Guo fruit extract. For stevia, a safe intake according to the authority is 4 milligrams.

Depending on the type of preparation, the natural sweetness of many foods can also be used to avoid the use of sweeteners and sugar. Although studies are still ongoing, these findings are reason enough to try to limit their intake.

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