03 Nov Artificial Sweeteners: Good or Bad?
Do you put these tasty little packets into your morning coffee instead of pure sugar? How about into your oatmeal, on top of your sweet potatoes, over some veggies to give them a little kick, or mixed into your yogurt for some sweeter flavor? Do you do this because you’re thinking that this is the healthier way to go, simply because they have “0 calories” and claim to be 10, 100, or 1,000 times sweeter than regular sugar? I think there is more that meets the eye with artificial sweeteners and I’m here to give you the low-down on what you need to know about this stuff you’re putting into your body on a daily basis.
What are artificial sweeteners?
We can basically say that any type of sugar substitute that you are using instead of regular table sugar can be labeled as an artificial sweetener. The list goes on and on with these, but here are some that many seem to know: Splenda (sucralose), Equal and NutraSweet (aspartame), Sunett and Sweet one (acesulfame potassium), Sweet’n Low (saccharin), and the healthier alternative that is starting to make a name for itself, Stevia (a natural sweetener from Stevia leaf extract).
Artificial sweeteners are being widely used in most processed foods, sodas, candy, baked goods, powdered drink mixes, dairy products, and other foods and beverages.
Health benefits of artificial sweeteners?
You probably weren’t expecting any health benefits due to the consumption of artificial sweeteners and to be honest, there aren’t many, but I needed to do some digging so that these sugar substitutes don’t just scare the bejeezus out of people, even though, we should be staying away from them.
Artificial sweeteners can actually be good for weight management since they virtually contain zero calories. So lets do a quick scenario and say that one-gram of regular sugar contains four calories. Lets say that you had a can of regular soda that contained twenty-five grams of sugar, or 100 calories; opting for a diet soda that is sweetened with sugar substitutes and reports having zero calories is a great alternative. However, we are walking a very slippery slope here, as there have also been many studies suggesting that consuming artificial sweeteners will lead to weight gain, but the cause isn’t really known yet.
Artificial sweeteners may also be an attractive option for those who have diabetes. Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners do not raise blood sugar levels because they are not carbohydrates. If you have diabetes, you should consult your doctor about using or adding artificial sweeteners to your diet.
If you have a good control over your diet, engage in weekly physical activity, and are healthy, there is no better substitute than pure sugar. In my eyes, whenever we start to tamper with things (chemically restructure foods), we tend to mess it up. Keep things as natural as possible.
Health concerns of artificial sweeteners?
Let me just say this; there are WAY more health concerns with artificial sweeteners than there are health benefits. Some of these statistics and facts might scare you, and as well they should. Time to put that soda down.
There was a time that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) actually refused to approve NutraSweet, an artificial sweetener containing aspartame, for many years because it was known to induce brain cancer and seizures. An even crazier fact; it is now in over 7,000 foods.
The most popular artificial sweetener on the market is Splenda. It is our nation’s number one selling sugar substitute. Splenda is made from sucralose, which is a chlorinated sugar molecule. Chlorine can be used as an insecticide and is also a deadly poison. When we ingest Splenda, our DNA does not recognize the coding for assimilation or for digestion of it, therefore, it not metabolized in our body. Paula Owens, author of The Power of 4, informs us, “ Splenda disrupts the central nervous system creating a feeling of comfort from eating sweet foods, which leads to addiction. The chlorine builds up in your system creating a toxic load.” So, by ingesting Splenda, although having zero calories, it actually tricks your brain into craving sweeter, sugary foods. This is why the statement, “…artificial sweeteners helps with weight management…” is highly debated. Here are some side effects that were found from animal testing after the ingestion of Splenda: aborted pregnancy, decreased red blood cell count, enlarged liver and kidneys, extension of the pregnancy period, hyperplasia of the pelvis, reduced growth rate, shrunken thymus glands, and diarrhea.
By far, the most dangerous ingredient in artificial sweeteners, mainly Equal and NutraSweet, is aspartame. Aspartate is actually a neurotoxin, which is a major component in the chemical make-up of aspartame. It’s been shown to over-stimulate the brain neurons to the point of killing them. Obviously, this is terrible for cognitive development and function.
Paula Owens states her findings, “If a pregnant woman drinks large quantities of diet soda, which is full of aspartame, her placenta may accumulate methyl alcohol, causing retardation in the fetus. People consuming artificial sweeteners risk malnutrition because of the gastrointestinal problems and diarrhea associated with artificial sweeteners.” She even goes on to boldly say, “Just one diet soda can kill brain neurons within six to eight hours and regular consumption can cause brain damage and cancer.”
Aspartame is in so many foods, from soda to chewing gum to processed baked goods and everything in between. Long-term consumption may be correlated to developing Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, or even Alzheimer’s. These processed foods and drinks are chemically man-made and are full of additives, which damage our cells and cause excessive stimulation of brain cells, causing them to die. Ditch your daily soda and muffin already.
According to a May 2008 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “aspartame appears to cause both direct and indirect changes in brain chemistry.” Researchers also found that, “aspartame can disturb your brain’s ability to metabolize amino acids and proteins.” Finally, “…excessive aspartame ingestion might be involved in the pathogenesis of certain mental disorders as well as compromised learning and emotional functioning.”
Don’t kill the messenger here. I’m just here to inform and educate, so that you can make healthier, better decisions when it comes to your nutrition and daily food intake. Stick to what is natural in nature and try to have the bulk of your nutrition coming from foods that man has not manufactured, altered, or chemically made up. You will be better off in the long run.
Paul A. Hovan Jr., B.S., NASM CPT, CSN