What's a Girl To Do...About Artificial Sweeteners?

A mix of artificial sweeteners, which are all proven to mess up your taste buds, cause disease, and make you gain weight! Photo: USA Today.

If you are still consuming artificial sweeteners, girl, you MUST stop! The damage artificial sweeteners do to your body is invisible, but very, very real! It can feel almost impossible to give up though. We totally understand. You've got your favorite drink and you've habitually reached for those little packets for years. Heck, they are staring right at you in every coffee shop and on most restaurant tables. 

But we are cheering for you to break the habit! Besides being highly dangerous for your long-term health, including causing cancer, kidney disease, neurological issues, and more, artificial sweeteners mess up your taste buds, turn you into a sugar junkie, and make you gain weight! Finding a new routine is absolutely worth it.

Artificial sweeteners are hundreds to thousands times sweeter than regular sugar, so they activate your genetically-programmed preference for a sweet taste more than any other substance. Aka, cue the constant sugar cravings and weight gain from overeating sweets! They trick your metabolism into thinking sugar is on its way. This causes your body to pump out insulin, the fat storage hormone, which lays down more belly fat. It also confuses and slows your metabolism down, so you burn fewer calories every day. It makes you hungrier and crave even more sugar and starchy carbs such as bread and pasta.

Artificial sweeteners are also being linked to killing off good bacteria in the gut leading to other health issues such as leaky gut and IBS, and poor blood sugar control. University of Sydney researchers even found that artificial sweeteners trick your brain into believing that you are starving and it triggers you to eat more food to compensate. 

Seriously, not cool!

Common Products Dangerous Artificial Sweeteners Hide In:

Many people I talk to about the dangers of artificial sweeteners don't even know! They are consuming them daily and at high quantities because of the products they are hidden in. Below are just SOME of the places the food industry likes to use and hide artificial sweeteners:

  1. Chewing gum. If you are buying ANY big brand gum, you are constantly being exposed. 
  2. Protein bars. Even the ones with a lot of healthy ingredients listed on the front! 
  3. "Sugar-free" lattes or coffee drinks
  4. Toothpaste and mouthwash
  5. Energy gels or chews  
  6. Chewable vitamins, especially children's vitamins 
  7. Cough syrups or any other liquid medication 
  8. Zero calorie drinks, including flavored water 
  9. Alcoholic beverages
  10. Salad dressings 
  11. Ice cream and frozen desserts, and not just the one's labeled sugar-free
  12. Candy
  13. Muffins, cupcakes, and other baked goods 
  14. Yogurt
  15. Breakfast cereals and oatmeal
  16. “Lite”fruit juices
  17. Prepared meats

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Make sure you read your labels to make sure none of these dangerous chemicals are sneaking into your food/products. 

The 4 Worst Artificial Sweeteners:

Aspartame (Known As: NutraSweet, Equal):

  • Reported side effects: Headaches, fibromyalgia, anxiety, memory loss, arthritis, abdominal pain, nausea, depression, heart palpitations, irritable bowel syndrome, seizures, neurological disorders, vision problems, brain tumors and weight gain.
  • Concerns: Phenylalanine and aspartic acid directly impact brain and central nervous system functions; evidence shows they play a role in mood disorders, memory problems and other neurological illnesses.
  • Methanol is converted into formaldehyde when metabolized.  Makers of aspartame say methanol and its byproducts are quickly excreted.  But research has found measurable amounts of formaldehyde in the livers, kidneys and brains of test subjects after ingestion of aspartame.
  • At high temperatures, phenylalnine breaks down into diketopiperazine (DPK), a known carcinogen. 

Sucralose (Known As: Splenda):

  • Sucralose is a synthetic additive created by chlorinating sugar.
  • Fact: the chemical structure of the chlorine in sucralose is almost the same as that in the now-banned pesticide DDT. Just yuck!
  • Reported side effects: Head and muscle aches, stomach cramps and diarrhea, bladder issues, skin irritation, dizziness and inflammation.
  • Concerns: Research has shown sucralose can cause shrinking of the thymus gland, an important immune system regulator, and liver and kidney dysfunction. A recent study by Duke University found sucralose reduces healthy intestinal bacteria, which are needed for proper digestion and can impact the effectiveness of prescription and other drugs.

Saccharin (Known As: Sweet N Low, Sugar Twin):

  • Saccharin is a sulfa-based sweetener; its primary ingredient is benzoic sulfimide.
  • Reported side effects:  nausea, diarrhea, skin problems or other allergy-related symptoms.
  • Concerns: Early safety studies of saccharin showed the sweetener caused bladder cancer in rats. The FDA recently lifted the requirement that saccharin be labeled as a probable carcinogen on food packaging. 

Acesulfame K (Known As: ACE K, Sunette, Equal Spoonful, Sweet One, Sweet ‘n Safe):

  • Composed of a potassium salt that contains methylene chloride and is often used in combination with aspartame and other noncaloric sweeteners.
  • Reported side effects: Nausea, depression, mental confusion, and problems with eyesight.
  • Concerns: The human body can’t break it down, and it’s believed to negatively affect the metabolism (negating the zero calorie benefit!). Research has associated it with causing some types of cancer, impaired liver and kidney function, and perhaps even autism.

The risks outweigh any perceived benefits when it comes to artificial sweeteners. Make sure to look out for sugar alcohols on labels as well. These include: 

  • D-Tagatose
  • Erythritol
  • Glycerol
  • HSH Hydrogenated Starch Hydroslsates, Maltito
  • Isomalt (Palatinat)
  • Lacititol
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol
  • Polydextrose
  • Sorbitol

So What's A Girl To Do? 

  1. Use all natural sweeteners — these include maple syrup, coconut sugar, stevia, fruit purees and raw honey. Not only do they taste great, but they have health benefits too. Look for more on these soon!
  2. Always have packets of stevia, coconut sugar, or raw honey stashed in you purse so that you are never tempted to resort to artificial sweeteners provided by restaurants and cafes. Keep in mind, not all stevia products are created equal –so make sure to read your ingredient list to make sure it says “stevia” or “stevia extract.” Besides 100% green leaf stevia, NuNaturals and Sweetleaf are the best tasting and cleanest brands. Keep portion control in mind: I recommend no more than 1-2 servings of stevia daily. 
  3. Renew your taste buds. From the day we are born, our sweet taste buds are active, excitable entities that want to be given as much attention as possible. They get quickly accustomed to artificial sweetness levels, and anything less becomes relatively intolerable. Renew your sweet taste buds by bringing back nature’s sweets –fruit, raw honey and natural sweeteners, sweet vegetables, and dark chocolate in their whole form. You will be surprised how sweet the start to taste once you have removed artificial sweeteners from your life. Just give it time. Your taste buds won't change overnight.  
  4. Add and use spices that enhance the sweet flavor of drinks and dishes such as vanilla, cocoa, nutmeg, and cinnamon so that you need less sweetness. 
  5. Make healthy homemade sweets with natural, real sweeteners when you really want a sweet treat. 
  6. When you crave a sweet drink, try homemade infused waters. Not only are they colorful and fun, they are also packed with nutrients.