This post is about the artificial sweeteners also known as zero-calories sweeteners or non-nutritive sweeteners and why you should find healthier alternatives to them.
Many people believe artificial sweeteners are a good option especially when trying to lose weight, not knowing the health risks associated with them.
These sweeteners are linked to increased BMI, Increased weight and fat storage, type 2 diabetes, kidney damage, atherosclerosis (which is when plaque builds up inside the arteries leading to strokes, heart attacks and even death) and much more.
Holly Strawbridge, former editor of Harvard Health, points out that while FDA studies have “ruled out cancer risk” for non-nutritive sweeteners, all of the studies conducted were based on significantly smaller doses than the average consumption of 700ml a day of diet soda.
Added danger is that these sweeteners are used in products that you won't think of as sweet food or drink, for example:
toothpaste and mouthwash
children's chewable vitamins
cough syrup and liquid medicines
yogurt and frozen yogurt
processed snack foods
"lite" or diet fruit juices and beverages
So let's get started with the 5 worst commonly used sweeteners and how they could affect your health:
Aspartame – (Equal, NutraSweet, NatraTaste Blue)
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved aspartame nearly 35 years ago. It’s currently used in more than 6,000 consumer foods and drinks, and over 500 prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. It hides in places we don’t expect! Because aspartame isn’t heat-stable, it’s typically found in drinks and foods that haven’t been heated.
There are several studies that link the aspartame to memory performance impairment and brain health.
Common side effects of aspartame include headaches, migraines, mood disorders, dizziness and episodes of mania. Comprising phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol, these substances can stay in the liver, kidneys and brain for quite some time.
And a recent study points to alarming news for women who consume artificial sweeteners during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. It appears that aspartame, in particular, can predispose babies to metabolic syndrome disorders, and obesity, later in life.
Sucralose, derived from sugar, was originally introduced as a natural sugar substitute. However, in reality, it’s a chlorinated sucrose derivative. Yes, chlorine, one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet! When it accumulates in our bodies, chlorine can be harmful and a major threat to our health.
At 600 times sweeter than sugar, it’s easy to see how the use of sucralose, can contribute to an addiction for overly sweet foods and drinks. They retrain the taste buds to need more and more, sweeter and sweeter foods which subsequently lead to obesity and associated health risks.
Common side effects of aspartame include headaches, digestive issues (such as diarrhea, gas and bloating), disrupted microbiome (decreasing good bacteria and increasing bad bacteria in the gut), and alters the way your body responds to sugar and the insulin levels.
Acesulfame K (ACE, ACE K, Sunette, Sweet One, Sweet ‘N Safe)
Acesulfame K is routinely found in sugar-free chewing gum, alcoholic beverages, candies and even sweetened yogurts. It’s often used in combination with aspartame and other noncaloric sweeteners.
The methylene chloride, which is a main chemical component, has been shown to cause nausea, mood problems, possibly some types of cancer, impaired liver and kidney function, problems with eyesight, and perhaps even autism.
In addition to sweetening foods, it’s becoming increasingly popular as a “flavor enhancer.” ACE K is heat-stable and routinely found in highly processed foods and baked goods. The human body can’t break it down, and it’s believed to negatively affect the metabolism.
Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
In the 1970s, saccharin and other sulfa-based sweeteners were believed to possibly cause bladder cancer, and it was required to carry the following warning label: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.”
The FDA removed this warning, but many studies continue to link saccharin to serious health conditions. Sadly, it’s the primary sweetener for children’s medications, including chewable aspirin, cough syrup, and other over-the-counter and prescription medications.
It’s believed that saccharin contributes to photosensitivity, nausea, digestive upset, tachycardia (increased heart rate) and some types of cancer.
Xylitol (Erythritol, Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol and other sugar alcohols that end in –itol)
Sugar alcohols aren’t absorbed well by the body and cause an allergic reaction for those who have a sensitivity to it. In addition, it has gastrointestinal side effects that include bloating, gas, cramping and diarrhea.
Its laxative effect is so pronounced that it’s actually part of the chemical makeup for many over-the-counter laxatives.
Even though these sweeteners have been on the market for decades, pregnant and breastfeeding women should select a natural sweetener instead. WebMD states: “Not enough is known about the use of xylitol during pregnancy and breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.”
Special note to dog owners: Sugar alcohol-based artificial sweeteners are a life-threatening toxin to dogs. Be mindful of breath mints, candies, sugar-free gum, frozen desserts and other foods when your pets are around.
Other artificial sweeteners to watch out for:
Alitame, Cyclamate, Dulcin, Glucin, Kaltame, Mogrosides, Neotame, Phenlalanine
Healthy Alternatives to Artificial Sweeteners
So, what are your options when you have a sweet tooth?
All natural sweeteners — including maple syrup, coconut sugar, stevia, fruit purees and raw honey — are great, healthy substitutions.
Start by using these natural sweeteners instead of the artificial ones and then retrain your palette to enjoy the natural sweetness of foods, without the need to add any kind of sweeteners. Try adding other flavors like tangy, tart, warm and savory to please your palette. For example, vanilla, cocoa, licorice, nutmeg and cinnamon enhance the flavor of foods, so you need less sweetness.
Keep packets of stevia with you so you don’t have to resort to artificial sweeteners provided by restaurants and cafes.
Start sweetening your iced tea with honey, coconut sugar or even maple syrup for a twist.
When you crave a sweet drink, try homemade infused waters.
Be creative and experiment with new foods, healthy sweeteners and added flavors that keep you satisfied.
Feel free to get in touch if you like to have more guidance on sweeteners or if you would like my support to get into a healthier path. Book a free Discovery Call to discuss.