Did you know that the average Australian consumes 14 teaspoons of sugar per day? Whether it be through cakes, cereals, juice or coffee, it is undeniable that sugar makes up a significant proportion of our diets. Unfortunately, this much sugar has nasty effects on our teeth, with tooth decay a serious outcome.
So, it was only a matter of time before a product that delivered a sweet flavour without damaging our teeth was created- the Artificial Sweetener.
What are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are chemicals added to food to make them taste sweet. They don’t contain sugar and may or may not contain calories. They are typically 200 to 600 times sweeter than sugar, therefore very little is required to have a sweetening effect. There are several artificial sweeteners approved in Australia.
You may have seen some of them at your local café such as Equal, Splenda, Stevia and Sweetex.
You may also have seen diet food (eg. sugar free gum) and drink ranges containing artificial sweeteners, such as Sorbitol, Xylitol and Aspartame.
What are their benefits?
Artificial sweeteners can help to prevent tooth decay. This is because they don’t contain sugar, which is the energy source for bacteria to release acid, leading to decay. Xylitol, commonly found in sugar free gum, also actively helps to prevent tooth decay by killing the bacteria that cause it.
Artificial sweeteners may also help to manage weight as they are low in or lack calories altogether. However, there is debate that they may also cause weight gain if regularly consumed.
Can artificial sweeteners be bad for you?
One concern is that artificial sweeteners may change the way we taste food. As they are incredibly sweet, they may lead to overstimulation of our taste receptors. For people who consume them regularly, they may find less intensely sweet foods (eg. fruits, vegetables) unappealing, constantly seeking sweeter foods to satisfy their taste buds.
Another concern is that because we aren’t getting energy/calories from artificial sweeteners, we may find ourselves looking to other sources to fulfil our calorie requirements. This means that, overall, we may be consuming more food, which offsets the weight loss benefits of artificial sweeteners.
Our take home message
The best way we can look after our teeth is to reduce our sugar consumption. However, if you are desperate for something sweet, artificial sweeteners are a good alternative to sugar. It is important to remember that there are always two sides to artificial sweeteners and therefore it is better to consume them in moderation- such as a small sachet when you need it.