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What’s the Problem with Artificial Sweeteners?

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Clients consistently ask, “What’s wrong with using artificial sweeteners if I’m trying to limit sugar intake?” In short, there are a lot of problems with artificial sweeteners. In fact, all of the current products on the market are actually toxic chemicals for your body. These days, Saccharin (the first real artificial sweetener) is used much less frequently, of course, since it was discovered years ago to cause cancer. It currently requires warning labels. Aspartame (common brand name is NutraSweet) on the other hand is everywhere. It’s made up of two amino acids and contains 10% methanol, an alcohol that breaks down to formaldehyde in the body. For every molecule of aspartame ingested, one molecule of methanol (i.e. wood alcohol, which is a toxin and suspected carcinogen and mutagen) is released. And, both amino acids in it, aspartic acid and phenylalanine can have over-stimulating effects on brain chemistry.

A whole host of possible symptoms caused by aspartame for people who are sensitive to it include rashes, headaches, dizziness, anxiety, depression, fatigue, joint pain, seizures and over-activity. And we don’t know all of the long-term effects of using it. I say this is poison.

The latest artificial sweetener to enter the marketplace is Sucralose (common brand name is Splenda). The manufacturer says it’s “made from sugar”. And, yes that is true, but the end product is far from anything resembling sugar. Three molecules of the sugar complex are replaced with 3 chlorine molecules. It converts to a unique chemical in the body, fructo-galactose, which does not occur in nature and therefore the body is unable to metabolize it. And that’s why it has zero calories! Research studies indicate that about 15% of it is absorbed and stored in the body. There have been very few human studies on sucralose, and none that were long term, or on children, or on pregnant women. Research on animals found it causes shrinkage of the thymus gland (a master gland of the immune system), by up to 40%, as well as enlargement of the liver and kidneys. Some people are sensitive to the chlorine causing stomach cramps, moodiness and pain. I say, stay far away from this sweetener.

If you want to sweeten food without the sugar calories you can use one of two natural sweeteners — stevia and xylitol. They are both extremely low-glycemic with minimal effect on blood sugar levels.

Stevia is a natural sweetener from the leaves of a plant in Paraquay. Stevia can sometimes have an aftertaste that some people don’t like. I have found about 60% of my clients convert to it quite easily.

Xylitol is found naturally in some fruits and vegetables like mushrooms. It’s also a by-product of metabolic processes in the body so our bodies know how to process it. It has some benefits too. It reduces H. Pylori bacteria in the gut, and has antibacterial properties specific to organisms that cause gun disease, cavities and sinus infections. It has about the same sweetness as table sugar and can be used in cooking and baking in a 1:1 ratio substituted for sugar. It does not raise blood sugar or insulin. The only downside is that large amounts may cause some bowel gas and diarrhea in sensitive individuals. And, I don’t recommend using large amounts anyway.

Having said all that, I do recommend still using only limited added sweetener. Stevia and xylitol are very helpful while weaning yourself off of sugar, but if you continue treating your taste buds to sweet tastes from any sweetener, you’ll have a constant battle with craving more of that sweet taste. As you wean yourself off of sweeteners, you’ll begin to notice the natural sweetness in real foods, like fruits. And, research continues to find that people who use sweeteners, even those without calories, tend to desire more sugar, eat more sugar, and eat more calories.