Artificial vs. Natural Sweeteners

Have you ever read the back of a package of sweeteners found on the dining table in restaurants and coffee shops?  These are the little blue, pink and yellow packages?  Some of them have warning labels that say “This product contains 28% sodium cyclamate.  Cyclamates should be used only on the advice of a physician.”  Some others say “Use under medical supervision.”  Have you ever read that?  I have to wonder why they would put these warnings on the packages.  How do we know which sweeteners are safe and which ones aren’t?  People are often surprised at how often dangerous artificial sweeteners are included in prepared foods, medications and beverages.  Here are a few surprising examples of where to check for the dangerous sweeteners: chewing gum, cough syrup, no-calorie drinks, breakfast cereals, yogurt, frozen yogurt and other frozen deserts, candies, baked goods, toothpaste and mouthwash and medications, to name a few.  If you want to learn more about any one of these sweeteners, you will have to research them individually.  There are tons of information on each one listed below.  I will also help you decide which ones are the safest to take, in my humble opinion.  Let’s look at some of them briefly but before we do, know that there are plenty of natural, healthy sweeteners available that provide essential nutrients and taste great which I will also list below.

Aspartame:  Aspartame is currently used in more than 6,000 consumer foods and drinks, and over 500 prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.  Some health professionals say this is the most dangerous sweetener on the market.  Some of the technical names for aspartame are NutraSweet and Equal.   Aspartame accounts for over 75% of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA.  Aspartame is comprised of approximately 50% phenylalanine, 40% aspartic acid, and 10% methanol.  Aspartic Acid (Aspartate) which acts as neurotransmitters in the brain by facilitating the transmission of information from neuron to neuron. Too much aspartate in the brain kills certain neurons by allowing the influx of too much calcium into the cells. This influx triggers excessive amounts of free radicals, which kill the cells. The neural cell damage that can be caused by excessive aspartate is why they are referred to as “excitotoxins.” They “excite” or stimulate the neural cells to death.  Some side effects of aspartame include headaches/migraines, anxiety, dizziness, rashes, heart palpitations, joint pain, vision problems, seizures and much more.

Acesulfame potassium (acesulfame-K):  This is a potassium salt containing methylene chloride, a known carcinogen. Long term exposure to methylene chloride can cause headaches, nausea, emotional imbalances, and damage to the liver and kidneys.  Acesulfame-K has been shown to produce breast tumors, lung tumors, and other types of tumors, leukemia, and chronic respiratory disease in rodents.

Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low):  In the 1970s, saccharin and other sulfa-based sweeteners were believed to possibly cause bladder cancer, and it was required to carry the following warning label: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.”   The FDA removed this warning, but many studies continue to link saccharin to serious health conditions. Sadly, it’s the primary sweetener for children’s medications, including chewable aspirin, cough syrup, and other over-the-counter and prescription medications. It’s believed that saccharin contributes to photosensitivity, nausea, digestive upset, tachycardia and some types of cancer.

Sucralose (Splenda): Sucralose, derived from sugar, was originally introduced as a natural sugar substitute. However, in reality, it’s a chlorinated sucrose derivative. Yes, chlorine, one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet. Sucralose was originally found through the development of a new insecticide compound and wasn’t originally intended to be consumed.  It’s uncertain as to why the FDA approved sucralose knowing the nature of chlorine. You should know too that it was approved even though the pre-approval research revealed possible toxicity of the substance.  Some of the side effects some people experience with sucralose include migraines, intestinal cramping, rashes, dizziness, bloating, acne and chest pain to name a few.

Agave: Agave is a sweetener commercially produced from several species of the agave plant. This sweetener has more concentrated fructose than high fructose corn syrup and has been shown to alter liver function, promote obesity, and increase insulin resistance for both diabetics and non-diabetics.

There are many more sweeteners that are possibly dangerous…too many to mention but know that there are also some sweeteners that are ok to have.  Here are some of them:

Stevia:  Stevia is not an artificial sweetener but actually a plant which happens to taste 200-300 times sweeter than sugar.  It has been used for hundreds of years in South America to support healthy blood sugar levels and prompt weight loss.  Today, stevia is available in liquid drops, packets, dissolvable tablets and baking blends. It has zero calories, zero carbohydrates and none of the nasty side effects of artificial sweeteners, making it an ideal natural sweetener.  You can even buy diet pop which is sweetened with stevia called Zevia.  I buy it myself and they have some great flavors to choose from and taste great.

Raw Honey:  Raw honey is a true superfood.   It’s packed with enzymes, antioxidants, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B6, riboflavin and niacin. Together, these essential nutrients help to neutralize free radicals while promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.

One tablespoon of raw honey has 64 calories and has less impact on the glycemic load than a single banana. It’s important to note that these are the benefits of raw honey. Once honey has been pasteurized, it loses the many of the health benefits that raw honey brings to the table.  Look for local raw honey at farmer markets and directly from local beekeepers.   Also, the darker the honey, the richer the flavor and the greater the health benefits.

Sugar alcohols:  Sugar alcohols like xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol and mannitol have been around for decades without safety problems. But some people do experience stomach discomfort or diarrhea after eating sugar alcohols. If they give you trouble, try sticking with only erythritol, which research shows is not fermented by gut bacteria, meaning it may cause fewer digestive woes.

Coconut Sugar:  Most people have heard about the benefits of coconut water, coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut flour and, of course, fresh coconut.  Now, more and more people are using coconut sugar as their natural sweetener of choice because of its low glycemic load and rich mineral content.  Packed with polyphenols, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, phosphorous and other phytonutrients, coconut sugar is versatile and now readily available. Coconut sugar is extracted sap from the blooms of the coconut and then heated. Next, through evaporation, we get coconut sugar.

There are other natural sweeteners available but the ones listed above are my personal favorites.  Give some of them a try and see how you like them too!

Alternatives to Sugary Foods/Drinks

Finding Alternates to Sugary Foods/Drinks:

If you’re addicted to sugar or carbs and want to reduce/eliminate them but don’t know how, here are some alternatives to some of them:

Soda pop:  One can of regular soda pop has at least 10 teaspoons of sugar in it.  Many of you drink more than one can per day.  Regular diet soda is typically sweetened with aspartame however you can buy pop that is sweetened with Stevia, it’s called Zevia and you can purchase it in many grocery stores or some health food stores.  You could also get a “Soda Stream” which carbonates water or other drinks.  You can then add some lemon or you can get water flavorings but be sure they are sweetened with stevia.  Or you can purchase different flavored stevia drops from nutrition house or other health food stores.

Juice:  If you took one orange and squeezed it, how much juice do you get out of it?  Not much.  Now imagine how many oranges it takes to fill an entire glass.  One medium orange has 12 NET carbs and 9 grams of sugar.  Also, when you are juicing the orange, you are eliminating all of the fiber.  Fiber helps to slow the absorption of sugar so you are losing this as well.

Fruit:  As much as fruit is good for you, it is very high in sugar and carbs.  You should not eat more than 2 fruits per day if you are trying to follow a low carb or low sugar diet.

Candy:  Candy is pure sugar…that’s it, pure sugar.  If you must have candy, you can buy sugar free candy but be sure it is sweetened with Stevia or Sugar Alcohols

Cereal:  Cereal is very high in carbohydrates and sugars.  On average a 30g serving has between 25-30g of sugar.  Keep in mind though we typically eat more than 30g at a time so you may double or triple that amount.  If you must have cereal, choose ones that have a lot of fiber in them.  All Bran with Psyllium has 22g total carbs, 11g fiber and 7g sugar.  Subtract the fiber from the total carbs and you have only 11 NET carbs (the absorbable carbs).  You can also use a vanilla protein shake mixed with water to use as a milk substitute.  It adds protein which slow down sugar absorption.  Keep in mind though that if you are following a gluten free diet, you will need to find gluten free cereals but all gluten free cereals re very high in carbs.  You’re best to give up cereal altogether.

Are Sugar Substitutes Bad For You?

Sugar Substitutes

So we have to give up sugar but what about sugar substitutes?  A sugar substitute is a food additive that provides a sweet taste like that of sugar while containing significantly less calories.   Some sugar substitutes are produced by nature, and others produced synthetically.  Here is the low down on popular sugar substitutes:

Aspartame:  Aspartame is by far the most dangerous sweeteners on the market today.   According to Dr Mercola, “Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. Many of these reactions are very serious, including seizures and death. A few of the 90 different documented symptoms listed in the report as part of aspartame dangers are:

Headaches & migraines, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain (yes gain), rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus (ringing of the ears), vertigo, memory loss and joint pain.”

“According to researchers and physicians studying the adverse effects of aspartame, the following chronic illnesses can be triggered or worsened by ingesting of aspartame: brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, mental retardation, lymphoma, birth defects, fibromyalgia and diabetes”

“Aspartame is made up of three chemicals: aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. The book Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by James and Phyllis Balch lists aspartame under the category of “chemical poison.”

It is used in diet pop and other diet beverages, gum, candy, yogurt, desserts, condiments, meal replacements, jello, ice cream, frozen fruit treats, hard candy and even in prescription medicines and over the counter medicines, to name just a few!  Stay far away from this sweetener!

Saccharin (sugar twin, sweet ‘n low) are found in those colorful little packages found on the tables in the restaurants and coffee shops, as well as in grocery stores.  It is 200-700 times sweeter than sugar.  There have been some studies with rats that suffered from bladder cancer when consuming saccharin. Although this has not appeared in human studies, the concern is still there. If something causes cancer in rats, long-term effects on humans are a serious issue.  Saccharin can cause allergic reactions in some individuals. Commonly reported reactions to saccharin use in some individuals include headaches, diarrhea, skin issues and headaches.

Sodium Cyclamate  got a very bad name in the 1960s when tests showed the development of tumors in rodents if fed large quantities over a prolonged period. It was banned in the US in 1969 and has remained so ever since. However it is approved in almost every other country and is a popular sweetener today.   It is often mixed with other sweeteners like saccharin to make saccharin taste better.   Have you ever read the back of one of those colorful sweetener packages? It says “this product contains 35% sodium cyclamate.  Cyclamates should be used only on the advice of a physician”.  Why do you suppose they have that on the back?

Sugar alcohols commonly found in foods are sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, xylitol and isomalt.  Sugar alcohols come from plant products such as fruits and berries. The carbohydrate in these plant products is altered through a chemical process.  Most sugar alcohols have little to no effect on blood sugar and insulin levels, with the exception of maltitol.  Are they safe?   For the most part our bodies cannot digest them in the small bowel.  Common side effects of over consumption of these include gas and bloating and abdominal pain.  One of the reasons for this is because they draw water into the bowel.

Sucralose (Splenda) is a very popular sweetener, whether you buy it in the grocery store or in pre-packaged products.  Splenda (sucralose) is actually NOT sugar, despite its marketing slogan “Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” Rather it’s a chlorinated artificial sweetener in line with aspartame and saccharin, and with proven negative health effects to match.  It was approved by the FDA in 1998 for use in products such as baked goods, beverages, gum, frozen dairy desserts, gelatins, candy etc.  It is allowed as a general purpose sweetener for all processed foods.   Studies show that sucralose reduces the amount of good bacteria in your intestines by 50% and it increases the pH level in your intestines.  They also found evidence that sucralose is absorbed by fat.

Acesulfame Potassium (AKA Acesulfame K) is a potassium salt containing methylene chloride, a known carcinogen. It is an agent that is also used as a propellant, de-greaser and paint stripper. Reported side effects of long-term exposure to methylene chloride can include nausea, headaches, mood problems, hypoglycemia, impairment of the liver and kidneys, problems with eyesight and possibly cancer.

Stevia is not actually a sweetener, it’s an herb but this herb tastes 200+ times sweeter than sugar so it is used as a sweetener.  Studies on stevia for the most part have been quite safe however some processed stevia products in the supermarket have other ingredients added to it which are highly processed so if you want to use this herb, purchase it from a natural health food store and look for 100% stevia.