The Dangers of Sugar Substitutes and Artificial Sweeteners
As we settle into Spring, the excitement (for many) over their respective New Year’s Resolutions has been tempered or may have already begun to be completely ignored. With this tendency becoming an all too familiar reality for folks, let’s take a moment to highlight a common resolution that many make each year – some combination of losing weight, going to the gym more frequently, or just plain getting in better shape, etc.
Most people strive to become more fit through some combination of diet and/or exercise. Without question, dieting is the most common option people take, especially after the Holiday Season and the parties that accompany them. At the end of the day, those that make these resolutions have one common theme – we all seek to be better versions of ourselves. So how can we improve our diets to obtain the best result?
One common, (albeit difficult), way is to clean up your diet and cut out sugar. Added sugar can have terrible effects on your metabolism and overall health and for this reason many turn to artificial sweeteners. With that said, and before you jump into the ready-made and brightly packaged sugar substitutes, arm yourself with the knowledge of what exactly you are putting into your body. It shouldn’t be surprising to know that all sorts of sweeteners have become quite popular. Below are three artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes to look at closely, and to ultimately avoid!
Three Major Sugar Substitutes and Artificial Sweeteners to Avoid!
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is sold under the brand names “NutraSweet” and “Equal” and is 200 times sweeter than sugar. If you are looking at labels that contain aspartame it is commonly referred to as phenylalanine. Some products that commonly contain aspartame, include (but certainly are not limited to) the following: diet sodas, gum, sugarless candy, yogurt and other general “sugar-free” foods.
While aspartame is in fact approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (a consumer advocate organization) has cited numerous studies that suggest problems with the sweetener, including a study by the Harvard School of Public Health.
Some research indicates that aspartame can lead to increased risk, symptoms or disease acceleration (while others have found no conclusive outcomes as far as ingesting aspartame is concerned). Research however does indicate that aspartame can lead to an increased chance of cardiovascular disease, a heart attack and stroke through drinking diet soda. Further, aspartame has become notorious for leading to headaches and for those who are susceptible to migraines aspartame can be a “trigger”. One should avail themselves of further research prior to opting for this artificial sweetener.
Sucralose is a zero-calorie artificial sweetener that is commonly known under the brand Splenda. Splenda is commonly used as a sugar substitute in both cooking and baking. It is also added to thousands of food products worldwide. In fact, alternative beverages often times contain sucralose as an additive. While it is made from sugar, there is a chemical process that alters it to fall under the “zero calorie” category. Sucralose (like aspartame above), is much sweeter than sugar (calculated at somewhere between 400-700 times sweeter).
While folks are quick to jump at sucralose and the “zero calorie” banner labeled on beverages and other products, the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health (Part B) has shown that sucralose has actually changed blood sugar and insulin levels in some people. Further, sucralose has been connected to negative effects on good gut bacteria, which is essential for maintaining proper health. The more technical description is that this sweetener induces glucose intolerance by altering the microbes in the gut. However it is framed, one should be cognizant of having sucralose as part of your regiment.
Don’t be fooled when you see “nectar.” Agave nectar is not actually nectar at all, but rather a processed and refined sweetener made from Agave nectar. While agave is a plant in its natural (unaltered) state, when the product is processed it tends to lose most of its health benefits (if not all of them), such as its positive effects on insulin and metabolism. But, with that said, Agave is processed and refined into a syrup through the exposure to heat and enzymes destroying the health properties of the Agave plant. More specifically, this manufacturing process is almost identical to how other unhealthy sweeteners are created (such as high fructose corn syrup).
While proponents of agave nectar will be quick to note that such additive does not spike blood sugar much, more analysis must be taken. The Glycemic Index (GI) readily measures how quickly sugar in a food enters your bloodstream, where a higher rating correlates to a higher sugar spike (in turn being deemed worse for health). Agave nectar has a low GI, but that is primarily because all of the sugar in it is fructose, rather than glucose. More specifically, fructose (unlike glucose) does not raise blood sugar or insulin levels in the short-term, and thus, are sometimes labeled and marketed as being friendly to diabetics and as “healthy.” Be cautious when you see such labels in the marketplace.
Before ingesting these sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners make sure to do your homework. These substitutes are all too common in food and beverage supplements and are consumed by millions worldwide as a means of combating weight gain and diabetes, however can actually promote adverse side effects that counteract any perceived benefits. While they are considered safe, there is increasing controversy regarding their adverse effects and as such there should be caution.
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