Sweet Obsession: The hidden dangers of artificial sweeteners - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

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  • Are you concerned about possible health risks associated with artificial sweeteners?

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  • Sarah Panko uncovers the dangers of artificial sweeteners tonight at 11/10c

Sweet Obsession: The hidden dangers of artificial sweeteners

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COLUMBUS, Ga. -

Looking around the grocery store, you'd quickly realize that artificial sweeteners are added to a number of foods. They are in diet soda, candy, ice cream, cookies, jelly, jams and even yogurt.

You've probably also seen them at a restaurant. The brightly colored packets usually sit in the middle of a table in a white dish. There's Sweet'N Low in the pink packaging, Splenda in the yellow pack and Equal in the blue packet. Because artificial sweeteners come in an array of colors, some food experts call them the rainbows.

They all have one thing in common: little or no calories.

Dr. Jan McBarron has been practicing bariatric medicine in Columbus for over 25 years.

She and her husband host, "Duke and the Doctor," a highly rated health talk show that can heard all over the world.  

McBarron, who's lost 70 pounds herself, says artificial sweeteners are not on any plan she gives her patients to help lose weight.

"Because people think that if they use an artificial sweetener that somehow it's going to help them lose weight, and it never helps you lose weight to use artificial sweeteners," says McBarron.

"Artificial sweeteners stimulate your appetite, they make you hungry and you don't realize it because you're consuming empty calories and you tricked your brain," she adds.

McBarron is also quick to point out what's in them.

"Splenda of course proclaims to be natural, which it absolutely is not. It starts out as sugar, but then they replace the hydrogen and pump chlorine into it and now you have chlorine that you're consuming," she says.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates artificial sweeteners as food additives. However, Saccharin once carried a warning label.

"There were some reports that it could cause cancer, bladder cancer, but then later on FDA reversed that stand and said no there's no concrete evidence- it doesn't pan to humans, whatever came was only in rats, so they took that out, says Dr. Suresh Mathews, the Associate Professor for nutrition at Auburn University.

He says if artificial sweeteners were to cause cancer, we should have seen it by now. He feels they can be part of a healthy diet.

"If it's chosen and done in a wise manner, with the objective of maybe losing a few pounds…probably cutting out 300 calories from a can of Coke or Pepsi, or any other product which is sugar sweetened with high fructose corn syrup is probably one way to do that," says Dr. Mathews.

We wanted to see what local consumers thought. What we found is that many of you are still wary about using them.

"I think they're getting a lot of controversy about them," says Piggly Wiggly Manager Drew Milligan.

Milligan's family operates or manages 19 Piggly Wiggly supermarkets within an hour's drive of Phenix City.

He says they once brewed and sold their own brand of diet sweet tea but it didn't sell.

He says diet Coke sales are also down. In order to boost its sales of diet sodas, the Coca-Cola Company recently launched ads defending its use of aspartame.

The food experts I talked to say there is one sweetener that is natural. Called Stevia, experts say it's been around for years and comes from a plant.

"The best is what you get from your health foods store- true unadulterated Stevia.  That comes in a green pack and that is perfectly safe for children, for adults- that's the very best," says McBarron.

The American Heart Association recommends women eat no more than 100 calories per day or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. And men no more than 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons of added sugars.

While the American Heart Association says using artificial sweeteners may help people reach a healthy weight and maintain it,

A recent study by Yale University found artificial sweeteners may not help you lose weight. They suggest a happy medium by combining sweeteners with small amounts of sugar.

Sarah Panko

Sarah is the anchor/ producer for News Three First Edition at 5/4 central time. She also brings you the latest Consumer Reports on the Nightwatch at 11/10 central. More>>

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