By now, you know or have heard of at least one artificial sweetener. They’re in every restaurant or coffee shop you visit, and you yourself may even regularly consume them as a way to watch your calories. But, while seeming like a great alternative to table sugar, do you really know what you are putting into your body and its impact?
What are Artificial Sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners, often referred to as sugar substitutes, are chemically-derived substances added to food or beverages to make them sweet. The sweetness of these substitutes is extremely intense, which makes only a little actually needed to sweeten a consumable item. Artificial sweeteners do have calories, but being so sweet and needing a small amount, makes those calories negligible.
Where there can be some confusion with derived sweeteners is that some come from natural items like sugar or herbs. However, just because something is “natural” does not mean it’s not toxic for the body.
Since we already have table sugar, or sucrose, why are artificial sweeteners even needed? For most, it has to do with one of the following two reasons:
- Weight Control – Unlike sucrose, these substitutes have few calories, causing many to believe they can help them maintain their weight.
- Diabetes – Since they are not carbohydrates and will not affect blood sugar, many diabetics use these in their food and drinks as an alternative to sucrose.
Common Artificial Sweeteners
Most substitutes have an official chemical name and a name that they are sold under. While many of us may recognize the marketed name, few of us could probably identify the chemical name. This leads to individuals consuming fake sweeteners without even knowing it.
Some common sweeteners and their chemical names include:
- NutraSweet®, Equal®, or Sugar Twin® – Aspartame
- Sunnet® or Sweet One® – Acesulfame Potassium
- Advantame® – sold under the same name
- Twinsweet® – Aspartame-acesulfame salt
- Newtame® – Neotame
- Sweet’N Low®, Sweet Twin®, or Necta Sweet® – Sacchari
- Splenda® – Sucralose
How Artificial Sweeteners Affect the Body
When you look at the process of how many of these sugar substitutes are made or were discovered, it’s quite alarming. Many of them were actually discovered on accident. For example, Saccharin was found when searching for coal tar derivatives. The substance was on the scientist’s hand and was tasted when eating a meal.
Sucralose, similarly, was found when scientists were bonding sucrose and chlorine and it too was accidentally “tasted” instead of “tested.” As if those weren’t enough of a turn-off from these substitutes, they have been found to impact the body negatively when consumed over time.
While many will try to argue away the health risks associated with these fake sugars, they do occur and are worth noting. Risks range from headaches and nausea to type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome may include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and increased body fat.
Cancer has also been noted in lab rats that were fed artificial sugars. Again, many try to explain this as rats having this predisposition, but it is an important factor to note when dealing with the health of individuals.
Most individuals see artificial sweeteners as a way to help with weight loss, however, some studies show the opposite effect, resulting from off-setting calories. This means that in your mind, you may feel that because you had a diet soda, it’s okay to have dessert.
Additionally, because sugar substitutes are so sweet, they heighten your tolerance of sweet foods and drinks. Naturally sweetened items, like fruit, may lose their appeal because they aren’t as sweet as the other items you are consuming. These derived sugars may even increase your cravings for sweet items leading to a greater consumption and further weight gain.
Another alarming issue is the addictive properties of artificial sweeteners. These products have been found to be so addictive that lab rats chose oral saccharine over intravenous cocaine. Therefore, cutting down or cutting out these substitutes may prove to be harder than expected.
So What’s Better?
At this point, you may be confused on what to choose when sugar is unhealthy and these substitutes are dangerous. First, start by eating whole, clean foods with natural ingredients. Your body may need to detox from the artificial ingredients and go through a “reset.”
After this, you may begin to enjoy natural sugars found in fruit and even some vegetables. Next, explore natural sugar alternatives like fruit juices and nectar, pure maple syrup, molasses, and even honey. By being more aware of what is going into your body, you can take control of your health and, ultimately, your well-being.