In the interest of making healthier food choices, some of us turn to artificial sweeteners. While these products certainly offer fewer calories, you might want to think twice before making that swap. I am focused on eating cleaner and staying away from processed foods. In my opinion, that means avoiding chemically-altered food products to the best of my ability.
Long before I made the move towards cleaner eating, my brain was hardwired to avoid artificial sweeteners. In all cases, I find the taste to be horribly offensive. I understand that not everyone does or food manufacturers would not be able to market these products, but I think I will trust what my taste buds are telling me on this one. Plenty of research supports that, while you should limit your sugar intake, artificial sweeteners are not a suitable substitute in terms of overall health. More specifically, 85% of independent research that is not funded by an interested party supports the health risks associated with artificial sweeteners.
The use of artificial sweeteners and the effects of these products on overall health are highly controversial. While the research on artificial sweeteners is inconclusive, due to the sheer number of variables in the diets and health of individual test subjects, I feel that nothing good can come from consuming a chemically-engineered product as food when it offers no real nutritional value.
What are artificial sweeteners?
I am referring to man-made chemicals that are used in food products to simulate the sweet taste of sugar. These chemicals are around 200 times more sweet than common table sugar, offering the benefits of the sweet taste without the calories and tooth decay commonly associated with high sugar consumption.
Sacchrin (Sweet N Low)
This product has been around for nearly 100 years and is probably the most researched of all the available artificial sweeteners. While all of the research on artificial sweeteners is considered subjective, it might be important to consider that this sweetener has been approved, banned and approved again by the FDA. It is considered a probable carcinogen, meaning that there are many who believe that it causes various forms of cancer when consumed regularly. And it has been linked to a number of adverse reactions including breathing difficulty, headaches, dizziness, and diahrrea.
Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal)
Another artificial sweetener that has been approved for use in food since 1981, Aspartame has been the source of the most controversy. Despite the FDA’s approval, nearly 80% of all of the food-related complaints that the FDA receives are from products that contain aspartame. This chemical substance has been linked to 92 different negative side effects, including headaches, abdominal pain, seizures, memory loss and blurred vision, among many others. Aspartame has also been shown to increase hunger and increased consumption of empty calories from sugar-laden foods, as well as actually increasing blood sugar levels over prolonged use.
The newest artificial sweetener on the market has only been approved by the FDA since 1998 and that was with limited use. This means that there is very little research on long-term effects and the FDA is basically operating under the assumption that until they hear otherwise, they are going to assume it is safe to eat. Splenda marketed this product as ‘made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar’, a claim that they were involved in a lengthy lawsuit over.
In fact, sucralose is absolutely nothing like sugar so that little bit of marketing was horribly misleading to consumers. It is true that the man-made chemical sweetener is made from sugar, but the compound that is recognizable as sugar is heavily chlorinated until the chemical makeup is completely altered. In case you are not aware, chlorine is a known carcinogen and is used in things like household and industrial cleaners, poisonous gases, plastics and pesticides.
It is very important to note that sucralose is very new and we simply don’t know what the long-term effects of this substance are. But, there are already concerns that it poses possible health risks.
It is also important to note…
There is a distinct lack of research funded by impartial 3rd parties. All of the studies that have been conducted are mostly funded by organizations with a vested interest in the results such as the companies who manufacturer and sell products like Splenda and Sweet N Lo, or by groups who are involved in lawsuits with these food manufacturers, like the Sugar Association.
There are concerns that artificial sweeteners increase blood sugar levels after prolonged use. At face value, this seems contradictory to the fact that the American Diabetes Association recommends the use of artificial sweeteners. However, with the lack of impartial research, they have no evidence to support a ban and they can only operate with the information that they do have, which is that artificial sweeteners offer a lower calorie alternative to sugar.
There are concerns of a correlation between artificial sweeteners and higher risks for heart disease, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders. Just because the research on prolonged use of these chemicals has not yet been established, does not mean that they do not pose a health risk. If there is enough of a concern over their use for the FDA to recommend advisories, even though they remain on the approved foods list, you might want to think twice about consuming them.
While short-term use shows a positive effect on weight, long-term use is suggesting otherwise. Artificial sweeteners provide no nutritional value, while simultaneously tricking the reward pathways in your brain to believe that you are consuming sugar. As a result, prolonged use of artificial sweeteners actually leads to increased sugar dependency, higher calorie consumption and resulting weight gain, and an increased tendency towards simple carbohydrates which are overall a poor health choice.
So, why exactly do I avoid artificial sweeteners?
The short answer to this question (besides the fact that I don’t like them) is because I feel that artificial sweeteners are basically a cheat to get around making actual changes to eat healthier. Here are a few quick tips for how I look at food options:
- Soda is a poor beverage choice always. Diet soda is no better for you than regular soda because the calorie content is only one of the reasons why soda is considered unhealthy.
- Eating a healthy food in moderation which happens to contain natural sugars is a better choice than eating a ‘sugar-free’ food product that is chemically engineered to taste similar with less sugar or less calories because real food provides real nutrition and limits your exposure to chemicals.
- Pretty much anything that comes in a box, bag or jar will likely contain artificial sweeteners. This is one of my biggest motivations for moving to cleaner eating and cutting out processed foods all together. If you make it yourself, you know exactly what is in it.
- Commercial juices are not a healthy choice. I absolutely cringe every time that a grandparent wants to give apple juice to the kids. Fruit has a ton of natural sugar so I find it completely ridiculous that they need to add additional artificial sweeteners to the commercial juice products. Fresh juice from a juicer made in your own home is good in moderation (still super concentrated on the natural sugars though), so I am not completely against juice. I am just completely against commercial juice.
- Pick foods because they offer a variety of nutritional benefits, don’t get hung up on natural sugars. Too many people want to run away from healthy foods which happen to contain natural sugar like most fruits because they know that sugar is bad and they don’t fully understand that some sugar, in moderation and especially when it is natural, is not going to effect you the same way as guzzling ten gallons of artificial sweetener.
- Even if you think you are not, you are eating too much sugar. In terms of how the human body utilizes food, simple carbohydrates are broken down into sugar. Therefore, eating a plate of pasta is essentially the same thing as doing a line of Oreo’s with the only exception being that the pasta would provide some additional nutritional benefits and the Oreo’s likely will not.