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Artificial Sweeteners--Boon or Bust?

For many years now the food and beverage industry has touted artificial sweeteners as a way to reduce sugar consumption and cut down on overall calorie intake. The thinking has been that if Americans cut sugar out of their diets to a large degree, obesity, diabetes, high triglycerides (fats in the blood) and a host of other diseases and conditions would be reduced or at least improved. Consequently, diet sodas, low-sugar snacks and many other foods came on the market over the past several decades as "healthy" alternatives to high-sugar, high-fat

products. The assumption among Americans was that these foods and drinks could be enjoyed without worrying about calories or the consequences of high-sugar intake.

What research has continued to show over this past decade and even more studies recently is that artificial sweeteners not only do not improve a person's weight or Body Mass Index (BMI), but can actually cause many individuals to gain weight and increase their BMIs.

In 2008, almost 33% of Americans consumed non-nutritive sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose and stevia) on a daily basis. Numerous research studies since that time have shown that rather than losing weight, most individuals experience modest increases in BMI (increased waist size and weight) when regularly consuming artificial sweeteners on a daily basis. Interestingly enough, however, studies sponsored by the beverage industry have tended to show participants losing small amounts of weight with artificial sweetener consumption, not gains. Readers could be cautioned to take these results with a grain of salt since the beverage industry has a strong interest in consumers continuing to use their products.

But given the widespread and increasing use of artificial sweeteners, caution is warranted until we better understand the long-term health effects of these artificial substances. As we consider the current epidemic of obesity across the nation and its related diseases, more research is certainly needed to determine just how "healthy" these alternatives are and whether or not there is indeed any benefit to consuming these products. From the studies that have been conducted to date, it appears there may be more harm than benefit. The bottom line here is that many of the bottled sodas and high-energy drinks Americans consume on a daily basis are doing more harm than we thought to our overall health.

At AAging Better, we encourage our elderly clients to drink water, coffee or plain tea as healthy choices. Fruit juices (without added sugar) are fine in reasonable amounts but getting enough water on a daily basis as individuals age is an ongoing challenge for most seniors. Under the care of our home health aides, ensuring our clients drink enough water is a number one priority for all clients, young and old. It's one of the most important functions we accomplish every day for our clients.

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