A Slow, Sweet Death: Artificial Sweeteners

We all know sugar is bad for us. Large quantities can cause inflammation, obesity, coronary heart disease, blah blah blah. Who eats real sugar anymore, right? We all reach for those little colourful packets that sweeten things up real fast for ABSOLUTELY ZERO CALORIES! read in your best infomercial voice. It turns out that those artificial sweeteners may be killing you faster than the real stuff would. But is that really surprising? I mean, we're comparing artificial; fake, chemical-laden substitutes to real, from the cane, sugar. No wonder our bodies hate it! It's our brains we have to convince. "When we ingest these chemicals, our bodies need to work extra hard to metabolize them, leaving less resources to detoxify our bodies from the many chemicals we get exposed to in the environment," says Dr. Jeffrey Morrison, physician and nutrition adviser for Equinox. Wouldn't it be just spectacular if we could enjoy our coffees, sweet and creamy for a 0 calorie cost? Even better if we could enjoy a fizzy can of pop without having to add it to our daily calorie tally? We can, and so, we do. But the truth is…we're actually making ourselves fatter by consuming these products with sugar substitutes. But how!? There's nothing in it! It says so on the packaging!!! It wouldn't be the 1st time our good intentions got slapped in the face by false advertising. Artificial sweeteners stimulate our bodies to produce insulin, a weight gain hormone, causing the body to store calories as fat. So maybe think twice before stirring that sickeningly sweet sugar into you're cuppa joe tomorrow morning.

The Worst Offenders:

1. Aspartame. Sold under names like NutraSweet® and Equal®, aspartame is one of the more controversial sweeteners on the market. Aspartame is made from a cocktail of unfamiliar ingredients, such as phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol. Methanol breaks down in the body to become formaldehyde, which is then converted into formic acid which can lead to metabolic acidosis - a condition resulting in disease due to too much acid in the body. BAD.

2. Sucralose. aka Splenda. Sucralose was initially developed in the 1970s by scientists who were trying to create an insecticide. Awesome, right? I bet you didn't know you were putting bug killer in your coffee. Splenda is cited as the most natural sweetener because it comes from sugar, however, during the production process, certain molecules are replaced with chlorine atoms. And while sucralose doesn't appear to have a negative effect on blood sugar, the concern is that the body might absorb some of the chlorine, thus suppressing the good bacteria in the intestines. BAD.

3. Saccharin. Those little pink packets. Sweet N' Low. Saccharin was first categorized as a carcinogen in the '70s, when research linked it to bladder cancer in lab rats. That being said, the ban was lifted in the 2000s when continuing studies showed that rats have a different urine composition than humans. Even so, I'm not taking any chances! Saccharin has zero calories and doesn't raise blood glucose levels, but is linked to weight gain. When we eat sweet food, our bodies expect calories to accompany that food, but when the body doesn't get those calories (e.g. diet soda), its looks for them elsewhere. Because of this, individuals consuming artificial sweeteners are likely to eat more calories in the end. BAD.

4. Agave Nectar. An alternative to honey, maple syrup and sugar. 1.5x sweeter than sugar and made from the agave plant. Agave nectar does have a low glycemic index level, meaning it is absorbed more slowly by the body and only causes a low spike in blood sugar. However, agave is starch-based and is not all that different from high fructose corn syrup (a no-no), shown to cause adverse health effects such as increased triglyceride levels. Agave nectar can be an acceptable sweetener IF you're buying organic, unheated agave which has been said to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and immune-boosting properties if consumed in moderation. BETTER.

5. Stevia. A South American herb that is chemical and toxin-free. Studies have shown that stevia can actually lower insulin levels! But be careful, although stevia is regarded as safe, many brands in the supermarket are blends and aren't promised to contain 100% stevia. Read the labels! BEST.

6. Xylitol. With the closest comparable taste to sugar, this sugar alcohol derived from birch bark is found in fruits and vegetables. Xylitol contains roughly 2.4 calories per gram, has 100 percent of the sweetness of table sugar. It's been demonstrated as safe for diabetics and good for dental health, however, don't use too much or you might be frequenting the loo - as it's not absorbed by the digestive tract. BEST.

Weigh your options. Maybe the 16 calories in 1 teaspoon of sugar is the better option when faced with pink, yellow and blue packets. And don't forget about natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and dates when cooking and baking! Don't feed your cancer cells along with your sweet tooth!


Eat well. Live well. Be well.