If you are trying to lose weight or have diabetes, artificially sweetened beverages and foods are being promoted to you by big food companies as a low calorie, sugar-free alternative to beverages and foods sweetened with regular sugar. We are being convinced that drinking a diet soda with a sugar-free cookie will help us to lose weight and control our blood sugar (as is the case with diabetic patients). Well, think again…
Research shows that if you drink diet soda, you will gain weight.
In fact, “There is a 41% increase in risk of being overweight for every can of diet soft drink a person consumes each day” according to researcher S.P Fowler at University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio. This data was presented at the meeting of the American Diabetic Association in San Diego in 2005 (1). Fowler also talks about a study in which rats who were given artificially sweetened drink consumed more calories than rats that were given drinks sweetened with plain white sugar. (2)
While it is true that artificial sweeteners have almost no calories and do not elevate blood glucose levels, I would suggest staying away from all artificial sweeteners. Some studies link artificial sweeteners to weight gain, cancer, nervous system disorders and even seizures.
Here is my review of the most popular artificial sweeteners.
Sucralose (sold under brand name Splenda)
- Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Maltodextrin is added to Sucralose as the bulking agent. Sucralose has been linked to reduction of good bacteria in the gut, obesity and hindering normal absorption of prescription medications.(3)
Saccharin (sold under brand name Sweet’n’Low)
- Saccharin is 500 times sweeter than sugar, and it is made from petroleum. Saccharin use is banned in Canada since 1977 because it was found to cause cancer of the bladder in lab rats. The FDA allows use of saccharin in USA in soft drinks and as tabletop sweetener in restaurants and coffee shops.
Aspartame (sold under brand name Equal and NutraSweet)
- Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is a combination of 2 amino acids: aspartic acid and phenylalanine, which are then combined with methanol (also known as wood alcohol). Our body converts methanol to formaldehyde, which is a toxic substance. It is known that that individuals suffering from PKU (phenylketonuria) cannot break down phenylalanine. Consuming this amino acid can result in irreversible brain damage for PKU patients.
- It is known that aspartic acid and phenylalanine can enter our brain (bypassing blood-brain barrier) and trigger numerous adverse effects: abdominal cramps, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, memory loss, mood swings, and even seizures. Because aspartame may cause neurological damage in fetuses, pregnant women should avoid consuming products containing aspartame. (4) Over 50% of aspartame intake comes from diet soft drinks and frozen desserts.
Sugar Alcohols (also known as Sorbitol, Xylitol, Mannitol)
- Sugar alcohols are not as sweet as table sugar; however, a large portion of sugar alcohols convert into glucose in your body thereby raising your blood sugar and feeding your desire for sweets. Sugar alcohols are quite often combined with artificial sweeteners in common foods like candy, chocolate, fruit spreads, baked goods and ice cream.
- Xylitol is manufactured from the fibers of fruits, berries and corn husks.
- Sorbitol and mannitol are produced in labs from cornstarch.
- Food companies promote sugar alcohols as sweeteners that have fewer calories than sugar with less effect on your blood sugar.
What they don’t tell you that these man-made sugars are not absorbed fully in your intestines. So after eating candies, jams, baked goods or even yogurt containing these sugar alcohols, you may find yourself in the bathroom with abdominal cramps, bloating and diarrhea.
So, what is a healthy alternative to artificial sweeteners?
- The answer is Stevia.
Stevia herb is known as “sweet leaf” in Central and South America. It is 300 times sweeter than regular sugar and contains no calories. Stevia is sold as a liquid extract and as a powder.
I like Pure Stevia Extract Powder by Kal. It has no unpleasant aftertaste, and there is a cute little scoop inside the bottle.
So remember: when you crave sweets, be a smart consumer – read the label.
1. SP Fowler 2005. 65th Annual Scientific Sessions, American Diabetic Association, San Diego, June 2005 Abstract 1058-P
2. Davidson TL & Swithers SE 2004. A Pavlovian approach to the problem of obesity. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 28 (7), 933-935