Are artificial sweeteners bad for you?
Artifical sweeteners were partially created in response to our demand for “sugar-free” foods and are touted as a good alternative for diabetics. From sugar-free drinks to desserts to chewing gum and even toothpaste, artificial sweeteners are hiding out in more places than you may realize.
While artificial sweeteners may carry no glycemic load, don’t impact blood sugar levels and don’t contain calories, are they a good alternative to refined sugar? Or are we simply trading one evil for another?
Read on for an explanation of 5 common artificial sweeteners, their effects on the body, and where they can be found.
Common artificial sweeteners and their effect on your body
Also called APM, aspartyl-phenylalanine-l-methyl-ester (try saying that 5 times fast!), Equal Classic, Nutrataste Blue and NutraSweet, aspartame is 200x sweeter than sugar. It consists of phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol. High concentrations of phenylalanine have been linked to abnormal levels of serotonin in the nervous system which may lead to depression and psychotic disorders. Aspartame is currently in over 6,000 consumer foods and drinks, and 500 prescriptions and OTC drugs.
Recent studies have shown aspartame to have carcinogenic effects within the body. Methanol acts as an excitotoxin which stimulates neurons and destroys nerve cells. Phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol can stay in the liver, kidney, and brain for some time.
Elevated levels of aspartame in the diet (especially when consumed regularly over time), weakens nerve function and increases the risk of lymphoma and leukemia.
By now many people are aware of the dangers of aspartame, but may not be as familiar with artificial sweeteners such as Acesulfame-k. Companies like PepsiCo are counting on this as they proport to make their beverages “healthier” by using acesulfame-k instead of aspartame. Don’t be fooled! Acesulfame-k in Pepsi is just as dangerous.
Acesulfame-k, also called acesulfame potassium, Ace-K, SweetOne, Sunnett and Sweet’n Safe, is found in sucralose to hide the unpleasant aftertaste. Acesulfame-k produces insulin secretions, promotes inflammatory responses and is linked to increased risk of leukemia, thymus cancer, breast cancer, and chronic respiratory disease.
Acesulfame-k is stable when heated, so it’s found in many baked goods. It can interfere with appetite regulation and can affect early development in babies. Because this sweetener doesn’t raise blood sugar levels, overconsumption can also lead to hypoglycemia.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
MSG is often used as a flavor enhancer and preservative and is found in almost every processed food (even so-called “health” foods like veggie burgers). MSG may be hidden by names such as natural flavorings, autolyzed yeast extract, textured protein, soy protein, and whey protein isolate. The FDA doesn’t require MSG to be on food labels unless it’s 99% pure MSG.
But “pure” or not, MSG has many damaging effects.
The Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine believes MSG increases the growth of cancer cells and stimulates neurotoxicity. MSG acts like an excitotoxin, slowly poisoning cells in your entire body. Immediate effects of MSG consumption include headaches and heart palpitations. MSG is linked to chronic inflammation, liver damage, weight loss resistance, chronic pain, increased risk of autoimmune diseases, infection and cancer.
Also called Splenda, trichlorosucrose, Equal, and Nutrataste Gold, sucralose is produced with three chlorine atoms. Biochemist James Brown states that “sucralose is simply chlorinated sugar.” Chlorine is antiseptic therefore causing damage to the gut bacterial balance producing weakened immunity, IBS, obesity, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
In addition, a compromised gut lining can lead to vitamin deficiencies and is connected to a slew of other health problems including cardiovascular, autoimmune, neurological, and psychiatric issues. Sucralose causes inflammation in the kidneys and liver and damages the thymus gland.
Sucralose is found in many products including energy and soft drinks, canned pickles, salad dressings, jams and jellies, fruit juices, cough syrups, baby wipes, liquid hand soaps, alcohol-based mouthwashes, soy sauce, spaghetti sauce, and ketchup.
Sodium benzoate, also called E211 or potassium benzoate, is often added to acidic foods to enhance their flavor or as a food preserver. It has been associated with ADHD, asthma, and other inflammatory conditions.
When sodium benzoate is added to acidic foods which often contain ascorbic acid (such as processed beverages), it forms a highly carcinogenic compound called benzene. Benzene stimulates stress and oxidative damage to DNA and is linked to cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma.
From this laundry list of food, beverage, medicines and even personal care products, it’s clear that artificial sweeteners are in more than just diet drinks and sweets. It stands to reason that if you’re serious about limiting your exposure, the best thing to do is limit your consumption of processed foods as much as possible.
Healthy alternatives to artificial sweeteners and refined sugar
NOT to be confused with the generic, processed and pasteurized “honey” you find at most supermarkets. Real, raw, unrefined and unadulterated honey is rich in prebiotics and antioxidants. Pasteurization kills all the vital living enzymes and good bacteria contained in raw honey. The antioxidants in raw honey have been shown to have an effect on reducing arterial blockages and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Stevia is 300x sweeter than sugar, but has no effect on blood sugar levels, in fact, it’s been shown to reduce levels. In addition, stevia is calorie-free, antimicrobial, antidiabetic, anticancerous, and an antioxidant. Stevia can reduce blood pressure, combat infections and reduce the risk of diabetes.
(I use liquid stevia in my coffee!)
By “maple syrup” I’m not talking about the processed Aunt Jemima syrup or the other imitation “maple” syrups, which are nothing more than chemicals, caramel color, and high fructose corn syrup. No, I’m referring to real, natural brands of maple syrup. They work well as a sweetener in baked goods and healthy desserts.
Grade B? Grade A? What’s the difference? Read this handy guide to the new grading system:
Coconut sugar is a good alternative to regular, refine white sugar as it contains more nutrients, goes through less processing than white sugar and has a lower glycemic load. Coconut sugar has a taste similar to brown sugar and can be used cup for cup in recipes.
Keep in mind that since maple syrup, honey and coconut sugar are still sugars and as such will still impact your insulin and blood sugar levels. Moderation is still in order.
Read my post with tips to curb cravings!
What do you think? Are you avoiding these harmful sweeteners?
Hi! I’m Liane, mindset coach and holistic nutritionist in training. I have a passion for all things natural, healthy and holistic. My aim is to inspire you on your healthy living journey by sharing simple, everyday holistic habits that can transform your well-being and life.