What You Need to Know About Artificial Sweeteners

artificial sweeteners imageToday, there are many foods containing artificial additives and chemicals that can have an adverse effect on your health. Many packaged foods contain artificial sweeteners to reduce calories. Diet soda, sugar-free gum and other products claiming to be free of sugar are substituting artificial sweeteners to replace it. There’s mounting evidence that artificial sweeteners can have a negative effect on your health despite and even your weight, despite being low or no calories.

How Do Artificial Sweeteners Affect Your Body?

The lack of calories in artificial sweeteners can help you lose weight, but they can become addictive if consumed too regularly, just like sugar. This can cause a craving for sweets that can eventually backfire. cause you to consume more artificial sweeteners and other foods that are of questionable nutritional value.

Different artificial sweetener have different effects. Most provide no energy (calories), while others have been shown to reduce metabolism, and some are even potentially to be carcinogenic and/or neurotoxic.

There are currently five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners:

  1. Saccharin
  2. Acesulfame
  3. Aspartame
  4. Neotame
  5. Sucralose

There’s also one approved all-natural low-calorie sweetener known as stevia (or in this case stevia extract).

Each of these sweeteners can be added to packaged foods and drinks, and each of them have their own story to tell with what potential effects they could have on your health.

The most common trick artificial sweeteners plays on us is mental; we justify the consumption of calorie-dense food because we’re having that burger with a Diet Coke. This is more common than you think, especially among “dieters” who drink lots of diet drinks without changing their eating habits and then wonder why they aren’t losing weight.

Artificial sweeteners are many time more sweet than sugar. The risk here is that consuming them can actually change the way your taste buds perceive taste, especially sweet things. Artificial sweeteners have actually been shown to desensitize the taste buds to the point where previously sweet thing–like fruit–no longer tastes sweet, and may even taste unpleasant. That’s the extreme, but it has been shown to happen.

Like sugar, artificial sweeteners have been proven to be addictive. A research trial on rats showed that the rats preferred saccharine over cocaine when exposed to both. While this research may not directly apply to humans, artificial sweeteners have been documented to increase cravings for sweet tasting things.

What Kinds Of Artificial Sweeteners Are There?

The five FDA-approved sweeteners and the all-natural sweetener Stevia all have a unique chemical makeup. Let’s look at their individual traits, qualities, and possible adverse effects:

Saccharin

One of the most popular artificial sweeteners mostly found in drinks, candies and some canned foods. Studies done in the 70s involving rats established a link to bladder cancer when consumed in large amounts. Additional research indicated that while this may be true with rats, there is insufficient evidence to establish the same link in humans. Still….

In 2000, saccharin was removed from the U.S. National Toxicology Program’s list of carcinogens. This prompted Congress to remove the cancer warning label on saccharin-containing products.

Sucralose

Sucralose, also known as Splenda, is a popular artificial sweetener used world-wide. It received FDA approval in 1998, and although one study claimed it to negatively affect the immune system, follow-up studies failed to confirm the claim.

It’s deemed safe for consumption by the CSPI (Center for Science in Public Interest). One of it’s characteristics is that it is very heat tolerant, making it the artificial sweetener of choice for baked goods and foods that require cooking.

Acesulfame Potassium

Also known as Acesulfame K or simply Ace-K. This artificial sweetener is 200 times as sweet as sugar. Due to its slightly bitter aftertaste, it’s usually mixed with sucralose and/or saccharin. The FDA approved the use of acesulfame in soft drinks in 1998, although before that it could be found in frozen desserts, canned food, baked goods, candy, gum, drink mixes and tabletop sweeteners.

The initial tests on acesulfame deemed it a possible carcinogenic, although the tests were proven to have been conducted under poor conditions which would hardly clarify if it was harmful or not.

The CSPI believes that the link between acesulfame and cancer exists, but is yet to be proven.

Aspartame

Aspartame is perhaps the most controversial FDA-approved artificial sweetener, as it’s been the subject of more “scare” stories than any other sweetener.

Like Ace-K, it’s 200 times more sweet than sugar. It’s used worldwide in a wide range of products including cereals, gum, soft drinks, candies and more. Reports in 2006 and 2007 by the European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology established evidence that repeated consumption resulted in the development of cancers in rats.

During digestion, aspartame is broken down into many by-products, a phenomenon not shared with other sweeteners. Some of these by-products are phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol. It is almost impossible for aspartame to enter the bloodstream in its pure form, as it gets digested and broken down into these by-products quite quickly.

Some of these by-products have their potential to cause health concerns.

Neotame

Neotame is widely regarded as one of the few sweeteners that is potentially more dangerous than aspartame. It is 13,000 times more sweet than sugar. It’s legal for use in both the U.S. (in 2002) and the EU (in 2010).

Neotame is similar to aspartame, as it’s based on the same formula. It’s essentially aspartame plus 3,3-dimethylbutyraldehyde–this means neotame is almost exactly like aspartame save for the production of phenylalanine and other by-products.

However, neotame may be an even more potentially dangerous neurotoxin, immunotoxin and excitotoxin than aspartame. One of the by-products your body creates when breaking down neotame is formaldehyde, a dangerous toxin even at minute levels.

Furthermore, 3,3-dimethylbutyraldehyde, the key component of Neotame, is categorized as a highly flammable irritant. Handling it is a risk, as it’s known to irritate and damage the eyes, skin and respiratory system.

These are just a few facts of why Neotame is a highly-toxic substance that should be avoided at all costs.

Stick to Natural Sugar

Products with artificial sweeteners have been show in some individuals to increase triglycerides, inflammatory mediators, and oxygen radicals, adding the risks of cardiovascular disease.

Although over-consumption of sugar has it’s own related health issues, natural sugar is a better alternative than packaged foods containing harmful artificial sweeteners.

Try to stay away from refined, concentrated sugar (like high fructose corn syrup) and sugar substitutes which can cause rapid increases in blood glucose and insulin levels, and can potentially lead to diabetes.

Your best bet is to eat a Mediterranean style diet, limiting sugar in all it’s forms, and focusing on healthy, nutrient dense, natural foods.

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