To sweet to be true? There is SO much controversy over artificial sweeteners. I will try to be unbiased as i can in presenting what legitimate facts have been given.
(Please note that I am only using reputable sources here. Anyone can type in their opinion to google and find sources to back them up, but that doesn't by any means mean they are legitimate sources.)
What are they?
Artificial sweeteners are chemical or natural compounds that provide the sweet taste that Sucralose (table sugar) offers with out at a much lower calorie count. These substitutes are much sweeter than sugar. Because their sweetness is so much higher you don't need to use as much as you would sugar.
Do Artificial sweeteners effect your blood sugar level?
Just because a product is, "sugar free," doesn't mean it's going to be neutral on your blood sugar levels. Many of the products that are sugar free still have high levels of carbohydrates in them which will cause your blood sugar to rise.
Are artificial sweeteners safe?
This is where the controversy lies. In order for food to be sold to the general public it has to go through approval of the FDA. The FDA has given "ADI's" (Acceptable Daily Intakes) for the following sweeteners; Aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal), Saccharin (SweetN'Low and SugarTwin), Acesulfame K (Sunett and Sweet One), and Sucralose (Splenda). The acceptable daily intakes of these foods mean that if you can safely intake the ADI for that sweetener each day. This chart taken from The Mayo Clinic, can help you to see the ADI for each sweetener.
The idea that artificial sweeteners might cause cancer came from an early study that was done involving saccharin and rats. They did find some instances of bladder cancer in the some of the rats. Due to this finding congress mandated that further studies be done before it was allowed to be deemed safe. Further studies were done and it was proven that these instances of cancer dealt solely with rats, and was not applicable with humans. Human epidemiology studies have shown no correlation. Other claims tried to link Aspartame to brain cancer, and have been proven irrelevant. More information about these studies can be found on the National Cancer Institution's website.
Are there any known dangers of artificial sweeteners?
Many claim that artificial sweeteners can cause cancer. This idea, however, is only a claim. According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no scientific evidence that any of the sweeteners that are approved for use in the US have any relation to causing cancer. On the flip side, there are numerous studies that deem artificial sweeteners safe for the general population. For individuals that have PKU (Phenylketonuria), Aspartame is considered unsafe and must cary a PKU warning.
*PKU is a rare hereditary disease where an individual lacks the ability to break down the amino acid, Pheynalalinine (Phe), causing harmful increases in Phe in the blood. Aspartame contains Phe, and if ingested by individuals with PKU can cause unsafe levels of Phe to build up in the blood.
With all of this information on the table you can make of the studies, what you will. I think that the principle of moderation in all things applies well here. I don't think that using artificial sweeteners in your diet is a bad thing, that of course is my own opinion. I do, however, think that one can over do it. Remember that food is best for you in it's natural form. Because I don't eat sugar, I sometimes will have Diet Coke or Chrystal Light when I need a sweet fix. In my opinion that is better than eating a ton of processed sugar. That of course, is just my opinion. :)
There has also been some debate as to wether or not eating, "sugar free" foods just makes you crave sweets more or not. I think that this is something that is determined on an individual basis. I haven't been eating sugar for about a year and a half, and I haven't had this problem.