The Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners

nutritionist and woman talking

Suppose you’re trying to reduce your sugar intake but are craving a soda. Grabbing a “diet” version is okay, right? Not really. The artificial sweeteners in most diet and sugar-free foods and beverages can harm your health and physiological functioning. Understanding what’s in sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners and how they affect the body may convince you of why it’s best to avoid their use.

Common Artificial Sweeteners

Most artificial sweeteners taste like sugar but have few or no calories. Sugar alcohols are also available, which aren’t as sweet as refined sugar. Sugar substitutes are in many foods and drinks labeled “sugar-free” or “diet,” including soft drinks, candy, and bakery items.

You might also have used any of these sweeteners in packet form:

  • Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
  • Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Purified stevia leaf extracts (Truvia is made with stevia, erythritol, natural flavors)

Are Sugar Substitutes Safe?

Due to the potentially harmful effects of artificial sweeteners, the U.S. and other governments regulate which ones and how much can be added to food. Used sparingly, some artificial sweeteners may be okay for some healthy individuals, including pregnant people. However, if you have a digestive or bowel disease, sugar substitutes could worsen your symptoms.

Keep in mind however, that aspartame metabolizes in our bodies to methanol and formaldehyde, with no safe levels. Serious diseases have been linked to even one diet soda/day.

Sucralose is made by chlorinating sugar, and in the belly the chlorine kills some of the flora of the microbiome that regulates our body.

Large amounts of saccharin has been linked to bladder cancer in tested animals.

If you’re trying to shed pounds or limit the sugar in your diet, relying on artificial sweeteners and “sugar-free” foods can be tempting if you still want to enjoy your favorite flavors. However, consuming these substances regularly, such as having a diet soda at every meal, can take its toll on your health. And worse, saccharine and aspartame have been shown to increase fat and diabetes—the opposite of what you might expect.

Generally, using artificial sweeteners will not help you lose weight, and they certainly don’t help you lower your body fat. Some research suggests that while diet sodas can help you drop a few pounds temporarily, the excess pounds usually come back in the long term. According to an updated World Health Organization (WHO) weight loss guideline, sugar substitutes do not support weight loss, primarily because they contain virtually no nutritional value.

Also, regular use of sugar substitutes can create a host of health problems, including an increased risk for

  • Some types of cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Cardiovascular disease and stroke
  • Poor regulated blood sugar
  • Compromised gut microbiome

Alternatives to Using Artificial Sweeteners

Eating is one of life’s many pleasures. Even when trying to adopt a healthy diet, it’s okay to opt for foods that taste good, but what we eat or drink should serve our bodies and minds. But what can we do to satisfy our sweet tooth without compromising our health?

The WHO recommends reducing our sugar intake and instead enjoying foods that have naturally occurring sugars, like fruit, milk, and some vegetables. Here are more habits you can adopt to cut out artificial sweeteners and deal with intense cravings for sweets:

  • Work to reduce the sweetness in your overall diet so that you don’t develop a preference for it.
  • If you have children, help them become accustomed to foods and drinks that aren’t so sweet.
  • Chew on dates. They’re naturally sweet and are excellent sources of fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, and magnesium.
  • Go for fruit purees like applesauce, which you can eat or use in baking.
  • Try honey or pure maple syrup to sweeten your coffee. These natural sweeteners are full of nutrients.

If, however, you are diabetic or wanting to lose weight, dried fruit (dates) and apple sauce (cooked fruit) will dramatically raise your sugar level and should not be in your diet.

Benefits of Nutritional Counseling in Cincinnati

If you routinely add a sweetener packet to your morning coffee, you could put yourself at risk for some health problems down the road. If you think you’re “addicted” to artificial sweeteners and need more hands-on nutrition counseling close to home, contact Blatman Health and Wellness Center. Our integrative health providers can help you formulate a comprehensive nutrition plan for better health and recommend supplements that support your nutritional goals.

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