Artificial sugar is a mainstay in today’s society. From yogurt to bottled water to cookies, artificial sugar is showing up in more and more food products. It used to be seen only in diet sodas and for sweetening coffee, but now the business of artificial sweeteners is a million-dollar industry.
But will they actually help you cut calories and slim down? How much Healthy Choice ice cream can I eat before it’s no longer a healthy choice? I don’t believe they actually help you lose weight. But I do believe they help you not ingest more calories. For example, if you normally drink 3 sodas a day, you would consume around 450 calories. Replace this habit with diet soda, with no other diet changes, and you’ll consume 450 calories less per day.
On the other hand, many people have a misguided belief that they can eat more sugar-free foods (usually made with artificial sweeteners) because they’re low calorie. This is why some “diet” foods are dangerous; with little nutritional value, they may make you eat more than you normally would.
But the real question is are they safe? Research shows that unless you have a rare condition called phenylketonuria (those people can’t metabolize aspartame), the FDA continues to state that artificial sweeteners are safe.
The most common artificial sweeteners and their main ingredient are:
A 2006 review published in the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety also showed no proof that artificial sweeteners caused serious illnesses. There are some people that do have allergic reactions to the sweeteners like headaches and rashes, and a few others that can get stomach upset.
However, there is an overwhelming independent research, especially documented in the comprehensive book, ASPARTAME DISEASE: AN FDA-APPROVED EPIDEMIC by H. J. Roberts, M.D. that aspartame (Equal or NutraSweet) is highly dangerous and leads to numerous health effects. The FDA approved aspartame as a low-nutritive sweetener for use in solid form during 1981, and in soft drinks during 1983. As far back as 1988, seven years after the initial release of aspartame, 80 percent of complaints volunteered by consumers to the FDA about supplements involved aspartame products. By April 1995, it had received 7,232 complaints.
Roberts states, “Senior FDA scientists and consultants vigorously protested approving the release of aspartame products. Their objections related to disturbing findings in animal studies (especially the frequency of brain tumors), seemingly flawed experimental data, and the absence of extensive pre-marketing trials on humans using real-world products over prolonged periods.”
Aspartame is a synthetic chemical consisting of two amino acids, phenylalanine (50 percent) and aspartic acid (40 percent), and a methyl ester (10 percent) that promptly becomes free methyl alcohol (methanol; wood alcohol). The latter is universally considered a severe poison. Additionally, the methanol is quickly absorbed and converted into formaldehyde in the human body. It’s important to note that nearly two-thirds of aspartame users experienced symptomatic improvement within two days after avoiding aspartame. With continued abstinence, their complaints generally disappeared.
Here are just some of the few health effects attributed to aspartame use:
- Damage to the retina or optic nerves is largely due to methyl alcohol exposure. Unlike most animals, humans cannot efficiently metabolize it.
- High concentrations of phenylalanine and aspartic acid occur in the brain after aspartame intake
- Aspartame alters the function of major amino acid-derived neurotransmitters, especially in obese persons and after carbohydrate intake.
- Phenylalanine stimulates the release of insulin and growth hormone.
- The ambiguous signals to the satiety center following aspartame intake may result either in increased food consumption or severe anorexia.
Additional disease states associated with aspartame use:
- initiation or aggravation of diabetes mellitus
- depression, other psychiatric states
- the simulation of multiple sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- lupus erythematosus
- an apparent causative role in brain tumors
- carpal tunnel syndrome
Because of this evidence, I avoid Aspartame. I do use Splenda artificial sugar but I limit these to a few packs daily. Sucralose has been accepted by several national and international food safety regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Joint Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives, The European Union’s Scientific Committee on Food, Health Protection Branch of Health and Welfare Canada, and Food Standards Australia-New Zealand. Sucralose is one of two artificial sweeteners ranked as “safe” by the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest. The other is Neotame.
Recently, however, I switched to Stevia, a natural sweetener made from the leaves of the Stevia plant, and really like the taste. The newer Truvia and PureVia have no bitter aftertaste. I’m also reducing the amount of sugar that I put in food, either natural or artificial, to enjoy the natural taste of food…back to simpler times and natural products.
Here are some natural sweeteners that you can use to avoid the artificial kind of sugar:
- Stevia (also called Rebiana): This sweetener is made from the leaves of the South American stevia plant. New brands like Truvia and PureVia are in grocery stores now. They contain stevia extract mixed with other sweeteners like erythritol.
- Agave Nectar: Agave tastes like honey, and looks like it too. Extracted from the cactus-like agave plant, it has the same calories as sugar but tastes sweeter, so most people don’t need as much. You can easily buy this at Whole Foods or other natural food stores.
- Erythritol: This sugar alcohol, found in many fruits and fermented foods, has 1/20 the calories of sugar. It’s usually mixed with other ingredients and is hard to find by itself, but your local health food store should care it.
Some ideas to “sweeten” your food without the need for any sugar, real or fake:
- Cinnamon: Cinnamon is a spice but imparts such nice flavoring that you hardly miss the sugar. Try it in hot cereal, put a bit in your coffee grounds, or on your fruit cup.
- Sweet fruit: put some fresh fruit into plain yogurt for a healthy sweet taste.
- Vanilla extract: a small amount in your oatmeal or smoothie will cut the need for added sugar