Artificial sweeteners are found in all sorts of products: yoghurt, soft drinks, baked goods, gum and even salad dressings. Acesulfame K is one of these artificial sweeteners. The increase in its use in recent years has raised concerns about its safety.
A chemical derived from acetoacetic acid, acesulfame K (or acesulfame potassium) adds sweetness to foods without calories or fat. It is 200 times sweeter than table sugar and is marketed as Sweet One and Sunett. The human body cannot metabolise it, making it calorie-free. The Food and Drug Administration has approved its use as a general-purpose sweetener.
Many activists argue that the studies supporting acesulfame K's safety are unreliable. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit health advocacy group, leads the campaign for more research on acesulfame K. They point out that the FDA based is recommendations on several studies conducted in the 1970s, two of which were inconclusive. A third showed that female rats fed acesulfame K were twice as likely to develop breast tumours as those who did not consume the sweetener. CSPI has repeatedly asked the FDA to order more research on the long-term effects of acesulfame K, but as of this writing, no studies are planned.
Methylene chloride is used as a solvent in the manufacturing of acesulfame K. In other industries, methylene chloride is most often used as a paint stripper, a degreaser and as a propellant agent. It has applications in the food industry, such as decaffeinating coffee and tea, but concerns about its safety have led manufacturers to seek alternatives. Long-term exposure to this chemical may cause headaches, depression, mental confusion, liver and kidney complications, nausea, vision issues and cancer.
Acesulfame K stimulates the release of insulin and exacerbates feelings of low blood sugar. As with other artificial sweeteners, it may confuse your body's satiety signals and cause you to eat more. It also may trigger cravings for excessively sweet products so that healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables are less palatable and satisfying.
The FDA deems consumption of acesulfame K safe. However, its questionable health effects on lab animals may make it a substance that is best avoided.