The safety of saccharin is one of the most discussed topics about this widely used artificial sweetener. Saccharin is a safe artificial sweetener used to replace sugar in low-calorie products. It is 200 to 800 times sweeter than sucrose and has no energy. This makes it an ideal alternative to low-calorie baked goods.
The use of saccharin became popular during World War I due to sugar shortages. In the 1960s, it began promoting weight loss, best known under the brand name Sweet’n Low (Cumberland Packing Corp., Brooklyn).
One of the major drawbacks to the use of saccharin is the metallic taste, which is mainly detected at high concentrations. Commercial saccharin can be found as follows:
- Saccharin acid
- Sodium saccharin
- Potassium saccharin
- Calcium saccharin
Saccharin or o-sulfbenzamide was discovered in 1878 by Ira Remsen and Constantine Fahlberg of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. It was first produced in a pilot plant in New York by Fahlberg. During World War I, sugar rationing increased the consumption of saccharin, and by 1917 the product had become a household item.
The function of saccharin in baked goods is to replace sucrose with a healthy sweetener. This substitution may compromise some of the functional benefits of sucrose, mainly as a bulking agent.
Saccharin, also called orthosulfobenzoic acid imide, is an organic compound used as a non-nutritive sweetening agent. This compound exists in the form of insoluble saccharin or in the form of various salts, mainly sodium and calcium.
For those trying to live a healthy lifestyle, the choice between sugar and artificial sweeteners like saccharin can be confusing.
For the first time since the 1970s, Canadians got a taste of saccharine sweetness.
After years of debate, Health Canada quietly decided to allow the sweetener in chewing gum, soft drinks, frozen desserts, dried fruit and other products. The news comes amid growing concern about the serious risks of consuming too much sugar, including heart disease, stroke and premature death.
However, it may come as a surprise to many who remember the controversy of the 1970s when studies linking this sweetener to cancer.
Countries around the world, including the United States and Canada, have decided to ban the use of artificial sweeteners as a food additive. (Of course, they were still sold as tabletop sweeteners in drugstores as long as they had a warning label.)
A lot has changed since those early studies were published. But does saccharin deserve the clean health label?
The beginning of the investigation
Saccharin, like aspartame, sucralose and acesulfame potassium, is an artificial sweetener. It has been around since the 1800s, and in the 20th century it became a popular alternative to sugar because it was less expensive and had no calories.
But the perception of saccharin changed after research was published showing that saccharin can cause cancer. In particular, studies have shown that this substance increases the incidence of bladder cancer in mice. These uncertain results led to major restrictions on the sale and use of saccharin.
Since then, more studies have been conducted, and as time passes, the link between saccharin and cancer is increasingly questioned. Studies have shown that the mechanism that causes bladder cancer in mice is not applicable to humans.
According to Health Canada, that’s because saccharin doesn’t bind to DNA. Many carcinogens do this, and this gives confidence that saccharin is safe to consume.
Health Canada also notes that tumors in mice fed high doses of the sweetener – which made up 3 percent of their total diet – developed from birth and persisted for several weeks. This is not applicable to a real world scenario with humans. Other studies have also shown that consuming saccharin in humans does not seem to increase the rate of bladder cancer.
This multiple evidence was enough to convince countries, including the United States, to change their stance. In 2001, the US Food and Drug Administration declared saccharin safe for human consumption, and in 2010, the US Environmental Protection Agency removed saccharin from its list of hazardous chemicals.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, also considers saccharin to be non-carcinogenic to humans.
Until now, Canada has remained a separate country and has not allowed saccharin to return to the list of approved food additives. But in 2007, Canada’s department began formal discussions and consultations to reintroduce the sweetener into the country’s food cycle.
As expected, Health Canada made the decision official, meaning Canadian consumers may soon start seeing saccharin in some artificially sweetened products. In Canada, companies using artificial sweeteners were required to include this information on product labels, making it easier for consumers to know what’s in their food.
Detailed and boring discussions about the safety of sweeteners have caused a much more important point to be overlooked. Whether your interpretation of the science makes artificial sweeteners like saccharin safe or not, we shouldn’t be consuming too much of them in the first place.
Artificial sweeteners are appealing because they allow us to eat and drink calories guilt-free. For people with diabetes, they also allow them to experience the pleasure of eating foods that would be impossible for them to eat without saccharin.
Studies show that people who consume artificially sweetened foods and drinks, are actually driven to eat more, which could be because sweeteners don’t make the body feel full or because sweetness increases the desire to eat.
While the underlying mechanism explaining this may still be unclear, the message to consumers is to limit sugar and artificial sweeteners. Cutting back on sweets can be hard at first, but your body will adapt to the change.
Too much sugar can be fatal. But a balanced diet of artificial sweeteners can prevent possible side effects and bring you health.
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