Artificial sweeteners are everywhere! Of course, as consumers we would expect that almost anything labeled “sugar free” has artificial sweeteners in it, but it is also hidden in many foods that you may never suspect. Low-fat yogurt, or 100 calorie yogurts do reduce the sugar added to their products, but many also add in sucralose or aspartame to make up for the taste difference. Other foods that may contain artificial sweeteners are snack bars, breakfast cereals, and lower-sugar juices.  These are all fed to our children, often on a daily basis, without a common knowledge of what they contain.  Do you question their safety? Well, here are just a few facts on two of the most commonly used artificial sweeteners.

  1. Aspartame – (NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, Equal-Measure, Canderel, Benevia, AminoSweet, NatraTaste) This sweetener alone has over 10,000 documented reports of adverse reactions, and accounts for 75% of all reported food additive reactions to the FDA. That information alone should grab your attention. Go browse the 900 documented studies on adverse aspartame reactions here. One of the most notable and prevalent complaints center around neurological dysfunction, particularly migraine headaches as listed in the Clinical Journal of Pain, June 2009.  One of the most startling correlations is this: In 1983, aspartame was approved for use in diet sodas (remember Tab?). Over one million pounds were consumed.  In 1984, diagnoses of brain tumors increased above any other cancer diagnosis and in 1985, the rate of malignant brain cancer had increased 10 percent.
  2. Sucralose – (Splenda) This sweetener is listed as an “organochloride”.  Does the chloride part concern you? It should! In short, the sugar molecule is quite literally chlorinated. In fact, within the patented process of making Splenda, three chlorine molecules are added to the sugar molecule, which is then ingested by millions of uninformed Americans.  Just extra information for you to consider: many pesticides are organochlorides, and the chlorine structure used in sucralose is eerily similar to the chlorine structure used in the now-banned DDT. (EEK!)  The FDA approved Sucralose  safe for human consumption in just four days with only 36 human subjects.  The main source of study was not even the effect on the human body.  It was on oral health.

    On a personal note, when i use a sugar substitute, I use erythritol sold by NOW.  It is non-GMO, and it provides that little bit of sweetness needed when I bake goodies on limited occasions.

There are many sugar alternatives out there that are less harmful to the human body. Of the alternatives that do not spike your blood-sugar levels, erythritol and xylitol are common favorites, which are sugar alcohols. These substitutes are considered natural, rather than artificial, but pass through the body fully undigested. They both have a sweet sugary taste, and neither have many complaints of a bitter aftertaste. However, Xylitol does raise the blood sugar level a bit and has a notable reputation for gastrointestinal distress. Erythritol, on the other hand has no effect on blood sugar levels and very few complaints of gastrointestinal distress.  About 10% of erythritol is absorbed into the colon (without being digested), but the rest passes out of your body through urination.  It would seem that erythritol is a sugar substitute miracle and would be great for weight loss and for diabetics, but is it without any consequences? Certainly not.

An area of concern to some is that your brain does not recognize erythritol as a food (because it isn’t digested), so there are no hormones emitted by the brain signaling satiety, which can possibly lead to overeating. Both xylitol and erythritol have been known to cause headaches and gastrointestinal distress, (particularly xylitol). Consumers also need to be very cautious when choosing a brand of either sweetener because of the prevalent use of GMO corn to make these products.  If you choose to use one, choose a product that is labeled either NON-GMO or Organic (preferably both!).

The obvious choice is to avoid all artificial sweeteners, but as we’ve seen, even natural sweeteners can have some negative effects. Truly natural substitutes to plain sugar are Monk Fruit and Stevia. Neither of these are reported to affect blood sugar levels, but again, be careful to choose organic, NON-GMO options. (Note: Stevia in the Raw is stevia.  “Truvia” is stevia and many other GMO sweeteners combined. ALWAYS read labels.)

The truth is, we are better off choosing to limit our exposure to all sugars, but for a sweet treat on occasion, utilizing the less-is-more approach to all goodies containing added sweeteners of any kind is always best.  Ultimately, use discretion and restraint, and most importantly educate yourself.