Should I Be Afraid of Low-Calorie Sugar Substitutes? BY GARY TAUBES
There's not nearly as much reason to fear sugar substitutes as there is to fear actual sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. The assumption that these noncaloric or low-cal sweeteners are likely to be cancer-causing agents, and that sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are not, is as much a sugar-industry invention as anything else.
The two oldest and most undeservedly infamous sugar substitutes — saccharin and cyclamate — were first used widely in the United States in the early 1960s, when diet soft drinks came into vogue. The sugar industry responded by financing research into potential health risks of the two sweeteners — spending half a million dollars on cyclamate alone, which was a lot of money at the time. "If anyone can undersell you 9 cents out of 10," one sugar-industry executive explained to The Times in 1969, "you'd better find some brickbat you can throw at him."
The brickbat was the notion that cyclamate could cause bladder cancer in rats. Or at least it could when they were consuming the equivalent of several hundred soda cans each day. Regardless, the Food and Drug Administration promptly banned its use. In the early 1970s, when a few studies suggested that saccharin could do the same — if consumed at the rate of 800 soda cans daily — the F.D.A. moved to ban that as well before settling for a warning label that would stay on packets of Sweet'N Low for the next quarter century. (Congress passed a bill to remove it in 2000.) To further confuse matters, the Canadians banned saccharin but left cyclamate unregulated, so Sweet'N Low in the United States is made from saccharin and in Canada from cyclamate.
As it turns out, the bladder cancer in male rats appears to be promoted by a protein in their urine that's not present in male humans. And despite numerous studies, precious little evidence can be found that humans consuming Sweet'N Low anywhere in North America have more bladder cancer than those who don't.
This suggests that despite the checkered history and the F.D.A. actions, cyclamate and saccharin might actually be as safe as any sugar substitute on the market.
Stevia, however, gets my vote as the best noncaloric sweetener, by virtue of being the only one that's truly "natural." It comes from a Southern Hemisphere herb, stevia rebaudiana, known colloquially as sweet leaf or sugar leaf. Extracts of the herb have been used as a sweetener for centuries. In Japan, Stevia has been sold widely as a sugar substitute since the early 1970s without any documented ill effects. Stevia leaves are 30 times as sweet as sugar itself, and the purified extracts are 200 times as sweet, meaning that it takes less than a calorie's worth to sweeten 12 ounces of soda.12 ounces of soda.
Thoughts? Is he catering to a more mainstream audience? He doesn't even mention insulin.