The Perils of Artificial Sweeteners

Too much of a good thing isn’t so good. You’ve probably heard this growing up from your parents while at the dinner table as you nibbled at the nutritious foods on your plate and gorged on sweet desserts and sugary drinks.

Besides overindulging, sugar delivers empty calories, meaning you’re eating less fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. You’re crowding out healthy foods from your diet and making more room for ones that have no nutritional value.

It’s not so much that sugar is flat-out bad for you, it’s that too much of it is. Why? It’s been said over and over by health care professionals and nutrition experts that sugar contributes to health problems like diabetes, cancer, obesity, tooth decay, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

A 2019 research study on added sugar and heart disease reported in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) found that over 15 years, study participants who took in 25 percent or more of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those whose diets included less than 10 percent added sugar.

“Added sugar” are the operative words here. That means, adding sugar to foods as opposed to eating whole foods where sugar is a part of that food (examples: fruits and some vegetables like sweet potatoes, beets, and corn). The lure of many processed foods is the sugar that’s added to make those foods taste so good. Some beverages – especially sports and energy drinks – contain high levels of sugar to give you that intense flavor and “sugar rush.” That energy rush is followed by a sharp energy decline, causing a vicious cycle of craving more sugar and a desire to replace that energy loss.

Turning to Artificial Sweeteners

So what do you do? You can turn to sugar substitutes to satisfy your sweet tooth and use them as diet helpers when trying to lose weight.

That’s where things can go from bad to worse. Face it, most sweet goodies we buy in the store contain quite a bit of sugar. Replacing actual sugar with fake sugar can mean you’re consuming a sweetener that’s artificial, highly processed, and often more addicting. These things can compromise your health.

Unhealthy Sugar Substitutes

Sugar substitutes can be entirely synthetic – in other words, made from chemicals. Some are sugar-free, taste many times sweeter than sugar, or have low or no calories … or all of the above. Saccharin, one of the most common artificial sweeteners, fits these criteria. Saccharin is used in soft drinks, fruit juices, pharmaceuticals, and many other consumer products to make the product taste good and attract sugar-conscious consumers. But are they good for you? The consensus is no. And many low- or no-cal sugar substitutes contribute to weight gain, which is ironic because those very same sugar substitutes are often used in diet foods and drinks.

Health concerns over some sugar substitutes are that they are high on the glycemic index (they raise your blood glucose level), derived from GM (genetically modified) whole foods, highly processed, and have questionable chemicals added. These substitutes can cause health side effects that are consistent – or worse – with consuming higher levels of natural sugar: high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, weight gain, malnutrition, and lowered immunity, to name a few.

What to Avoid and Why

Other artificial sweeteners you may want to avoid and why:

  • Aspartame (brand names NutraSweet, Equal). Studies have found a link between the use of aspartame and cancer, heart disease, increased body mass.

  • Saccharin (brand name Sweet’N Low). In some people, saccharin can cause allergic reactions, breathing problems, skin irritation, headaches or gastrointestinal issues.

  • Sucralose (brand name Splenda). Chlorinated sugar derived from sugar that tends to increase appetite, weight gain, and fat storage.

  • Erythritol. A sugar alcohol that can cause acid reflux, dehydration, electrolyte loss, increased risk of cancer of the larynx. Those with GI issues, in particular, may want to steer clear of erythritol.

So you’re right back to where you started. You gravitate to artificial sweeteners to avoid the negative health effects of natural sugar and end up with many of the same negative health effects. Avoid the perils of artificial sweeteners.

Committing to Eating Less Sugar

So what can you do? For one thing, go for balance. Eat sweets in moderation. Reduce the amount of sugar you add to foods when preparing meals and snacks. Treat sugar as you would a spice or condiment. Use it to add flavor to your food, not as a main course or the primary ingredient.

Cakes, baked goods, cereals, nutrition bars, candies, yogurt, and ice cream are the foods to look out for when limiting sugar consumption. These enticing foods are often chock full of sugar. Check labels, when available, for sugar content.

Instead of a sweet snack or dessert, eat fruit. The fiber in fruit can help slow sugar absorption, curbing the effects of a sugar rush.

Another sweet helper in the fruit class is monk fruit, a natural sweetener derived from the extract of a fruit grown on a vine. The extract is juiced and turned into crystals or a liquid. The other benefits of monk fruit are that it’s super sweet (the extract is about 250 times sweeter than table sugar), no calories, and doesn’t raise your blood sugar.

Avoid artificially sweetened drinks. Grab a bottle of Juice Squeeze, which is naturally sweetened with real fruit juice. With less than 100 calories per 12-ounce serving, it’s a sensible and refreshing way to enjoy a sweet drink with ingredients found in nature.

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