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Artificial Sweeteners

The colored packets of artificial sweeteners that sit on restaurant tables everywhere may be low in calories, but that doesn't mean they're good for you.

Image by HowStuffWorks staff

Every year, each American consumes more than his fair share of sugar -- about 150 pounds (68 kilograms) of it. And about 29 pounds (13 kilograms) of that is table sugar -- the granulated kind, which is also called sucrose [source: Casey]. Some comes from honey, maple syrup or fructose (which is naturally found in fruits), but many of us also have a bad sugar substitute habit.

There are five artificial sweeteners, also called non-nutritive sweeteners, that the FDA considers safe for humans to eat: acesulfame potassium (acesulfame K), aspartame, neotame, saccharin and sucralose [source: USDA]. Some sugar substitutes may leave you with a bad taste in your mouth, literally, but that's not the only thing bad about them. While we love our artificial sweeteners because they're zero or low-calorie, we really don't know how bad they are for us. There have been some confusing claims over the last few decades, but at the end of the day, these sugar-free sweeteners may be significantly increasing your risk of health problems such as weight gain as well as metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease [source: Scutti].

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