Why Artificial Sweeteners Are Worse Than Sugar
Sickly Sweet: What You Need to Know About Artificial Sweeteners
Knowing that sugar is bad for us, many of us have opted for the blue, pink or yellow packets. We’re even willing to put up with an odd aftertaste as long as we know we’re cutting out calories. So, lower calories, no sugar – must mean these artificial sweeteners are healthier right? We’ll let you be the judge…
The most common of these artificial sweeteners are:
- Aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet)
- Saccharin (SugarTwin and Sweet’N Low)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
These artificial sweeteners claim zero calories, while still appeasing our craving for sweetness. The food industry has pushed their artificial sweeteners claiming that they offer a great sugar substitute for those with diabetes and for those wanting to lose weight. But after 30 years of research, we’ve learned that those claims are as artificial as the sweeteners they represent.
What’s in Artificial Sweeteners?
Aspartame is the most widely used artificial sweetener in diet soft drinks and is used in many other food products. Aspartame consists of the chemicals: phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol. “Phenylalanine and aspartic acid directly impact brain and central nervous system functions.” As such, these chemicals affect mood disorders, memory problems and other neurological illnesses.
Methanol is wood alcohol. When metabolized, methanol transforms into formaldehyde (a.k.a, embalming fluid), a deadly neurotoxin. The manufacturers of aspartame claim that methanol and its byproducts are quickly excreted from the body. “But research has found measurable amounts of formaldehyde in the livers, kidneys and brains of test subjects after ingestion of aspartame.”
Shockingly, over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA are attributed to aspartame. More than 90 documented symptoms rise from its use: headaches, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, insomnia and many more. Researchers have also found that many chronic diseases are either triggered by or worsened by aspartame, including: Alzheimer’s, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, lymphoma, chronic fatigue syndrome and others.
Whoa! This means your sugar-free soda, gum, chocolate, desserts, jelly, and even some tooth pastes and vitamins may be causing your headaches, fatigue and insomnia.
Sucralose (Splenda) has quickly become the number one selling artificial sweetener in America. Sucralose is created by combining a chlorine molecule with a sugar molecule. We can’t metabolize chlorine, so this synthetic union prevents the body from metabolizing the sugar as sugar.
Duke University conducted a study in 2008 and found that sucralose “may cause weight gain, kill beneficial intestinal bacteria and block the absorption of prescription drugs.”
Those who use sucralose report problems including: headaches, muscle aches, stomach cramping, diarrhea, bladder problems, skin rashes, dizziness and inflammation.
Unfortunately, not only some sodas, but many other sparkling beverages, milk drinks, yogurts, and other desserts are sweetened with sucralose. Anything sweetened with sucralose increases your risk of developing gut disorders. By all means, read labels and stick to products with ingredients you can trust.
The main ingredient in saccharin, is benzoic sulfimide, a sulfa-based sweetener. If you check the material safety data sheet (MSDS) on benzoic sulfimide, you’ll find the following precautionary statement: “Harmful by inhalation, in contact with skin and if swallowed. Wear suitable protective clothing, gloves and eye/face protection.” (Note: synonyms for this chemical listed on the MSDS include “saccharin.”)
Saccharin users also report the following harmful effects: diarrhea, skin problems, other allergic reactions, and anyone allergic to sulfa may experience nausea. Some health groups warn that saccharin should not be ingested by infants, children or pregnant women.
Do you really want to put any of these chemicals into your body?
Even someone committed to eating organically will occasionally reach for a breath mint to avoid embarrassment, only to end up with a nasty dose of artificial sweeteners like saccharin.
3 Ways Artificial Sweeteners Are Worse for You than Sugar
Some reading this article may argue, “I’ve been using artificial sweeteners for years and have never experienced any of the negative side effects listed above. So what’s wrong with using them as a weight-loss tool or as a substitute for sugar if I have diabetes?”
In recent years, countless studies have been conducted that challenge the effectiveness of artificial sweeteners to curb obesity and aid in lowering blood sugar. In fact, researchers are finding that artificial sweeteners actually promote obesity and raise blood sugar levels.
There are a couple of scientific reasons for this.
1. First, scientists found that artificial sweeteners raise blood sugar levels “by dramatically changing the makeup of the gut microorganisms.” The researchers were so surprised by the results of their tests that they repeated them multiple times, all with the same effect. In the tests, a control group was given sugar, while the other three groups consumed each of the three top artificial sweeteners. Each time, those consuming the artificial sweeteners experienced higher blood sugar levels than those who consumed sugar. In fact, after eleven weeks, those consuming sugar were doing “fine,” whereas those consuming artificial sweeteners “had abnormally high blood glucose levels.” Given that evidence, artificial sweeteners could actually bring on type 2 diabetes. The gut flora changed substantially in subjects consuming artificial sweeteners. “These different strains of bacteria are known to be present in those who are obese.” Artificial sweeteners “induce gut dysbiosis [microbial imbalance] and glucose intolerance in otherwise healthy people.”
2. Another way that artificial sweeteners work against you is that they fool your body. Receptors in your tongue and intestines register the taste of sweet and signal your body that it’s receiving calories. But when the calories don’t come, your body tells you that you need more calories. The result is that consuming artificial sweeteners causes you to crave more carbohydrates. Overwhelming research over the past 30 years has demonstrated that artificial sweeteners: stimulate the appetite, increase carb cravings, “and produce a variety of metabolic dysfunctions that promote fat storage and weight gain.” In fact, as the use of artificial sweeteners has risen, so has the rate of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
3. A third way that artificial sweeteners sabotage your health is the psychological effect they engender. Someone who is prone to overeating or has a weakness for sweets will drink a diet soda and then splurge by eating a dessert. The thinking goes like this, “The soda has zero calories, so I can afford to eat a few more by eating a dessert.” But this practice produces a “double whammy” when it comes to diet and blood sugar levels. As we’ve already seen, it’s not all about calories. The artificial sweetener in the soda creates an environment in the gut that promotes obesity and high blood sugar. Now, to top that off, we’re adding more carbohydrates (calories) with little nutrition.
What about Stevia?
Most of the stevia products on the market are not pure stevia. Stevia is 250 times sweeter than sugar, so dispensing it in such small quantities becomes a challenge. In order to dispense stevia in small packets like sugar and artificial sweeteners, manufacturers have “bulked” stevia with other ingredients and this is where it gets downright misleading.
Truvia, Stevia in the Raw, and Pure Via represent three popular stevia products. They all claim to be “natural.” This is an unregulated term by the FDA and means absolutely nothing. Stevia in the Raw and Pure Via both use dextrose as a bulking agent. Dextrose is sugar made from corn!,  Truvia uses erythritol as its bulking agent. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that passes through the digestive tract without being broken down. Added to this, the FDA lets food manufacturers get away with calling a product “zero-calorie” if a portion size is fewer than 5 calories per serving. So in fact, these are not no-calorie sweeteners.
There are a couple of pure stevia products on the market including NuNaturals and SweetLeaf. But prepare for sticker shock and some difficulty dispensing this super-sweet, sugar alternative.
Dr. Scott Saunders, MD, explains that your intestines detect the presence of sweet and trigger the pancreas to make insulin as though you were eating sugar. In fact, he suggests that because stevia and other sugar substitutes are so many times sweeter than sugar, the effect is even greater than with sugar.
The Skinny on Artificial Sweeteners
Perhaps after reading this you feel like I’ve pulled the rug out from underneath you leaving you no viable options. So let me offer you several practical tips.
- Choose a “real food” sweetener like honey, Turbinado sugar, or coconut sugar, but use it sparingly! Retrain and recalibrate your taste buds to enjoy things less sweet. This will take a few weeks, but you can do it. For instance, if you currently use a teaspoon (or its equivalent) of sugar in your coffee or tea, cut that amount in half.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners altogether for all the reasons listed above.
- Stay away from sodas, fruit juices, fruity drinks, and sugary coffee drinks. Anything you drink, you metabolize faster than eating. Also, real food like an orange has much more fiber than orange juice—even if the pulp is still there. Drink lots of water and learn to drink coffee and tea without or with little sugar.
- Eat your fruit instead of drinking it. Our body often craves the taste of sweet because of the energy it gives us. Sweet foods straight from nature aren’t dangerous when included in a healthy diet. So enjoy sweet fruits.
- Eat whole foods and refrain from buying processed foods and fast foods. Processed and fast foods are loaded with sugar.
- Avoid “fat-free” labels. When something is labeled “fat-free” it usually means that sugars have been added to help retain their flavor. Besides, your body and brain need good fats! (That’s a topic for another article.)
- Read ingredient labels and be familiar with what you’re eating.
- Stay clear of corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, agave syrup, and their like. These sugars are metabolized in the liver instead of the intestines. As a result, the liver turns them into fat.
Change is difficult. We’ve been told for so long that sugar is bad for us that we thought we were doing ourselves a favor by switching to artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose or stevia. But we now have abundant proof that those artificial sweeteners are even worse for us than plain old sugar. Make a healthy change by avoiding artificial sweeteners altogether, whether you’re overweight, suffering from type 2 diabetes, or in good health.
And if you’re suffering from the ill-effects of artificial sweeteners, you can reverse those issues through fasting, probiotics, and simply getting into a new routine of eating organic whole foods.
Ready for your post-diet-soda life? Ditch the sweet stuff altogether with our beginner’s guide to cutting out sugar. Having a total freakout moment over sugar? Find out if you’re addicted without even knowing it.