by Mike Geary, Certified Nutrition Specialist, Certified Personal Trainer, TruthAboutAbs.com
A question I get a lot: Do artificial sweeteners (Splenda, aspartame, Stevia, etc) make you fat? I wanted to talk about artificial sweeteners today because I've noticed that there's a lot of confusion and misconceptions revolving around these non-caloric sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners and the huge list of products sweetened with them are marketed to you relentlessly as "healthy foods" or "healthier" than sugar or corn syrup sweetened products. But are they really?
Just to clarify, some of the most popular artificial sweeteners on the market today are:
- Splenda (sucralose)
- Acesulfame Potassium (aka - acesulfame K)
These artificial sweeteners are used in abundance in almost every "diet" drink, "lite" yogurts, puddings, and ice creams, most "low-carb" products, and almost all "reduced-sugar" products. Heck, even most protein powders are loaded with artificial sweeteners too (just look on the ingredients and you'll usually see one of them).
Splenda is probably one of the worst offenders of claiming to be "healthy" as they say that it's made from real sugar. Don't be fooled! It's still an artificial substance. What they don't tell you is that Splenda is actually a chemically modified substance where chlorine is added to the chemical structure, making it more similar to a chlorinated pesticide than something we should be eating or drinking.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions that I see all of the time and it saddens me to see so many people poisoning their family with dangerous artificial sweeteners like splenda, while falsely thinking they're doing something healthy.
The truth is that artificial sweeteners are not even close to being healthy, and as you'll discover in a minute, can easily be just as bad for you, if not worse, than sugar or corn syrup. Most people think that they are doing something good for themselves by choosing the "diet" drinks or "lite" yogurts compared to the sugar-laden versions, but the problem is that you're exposing yourself to a whole new set of problems with the artificially sweetened drinks and foods.
I know you're probably frustrated by all of the contradicting messages you hear each day about which foods are good for you and which are bad. I'm sure just today you probably saw some clever ad or commercial somewhere screaming health benefits for a food product that is loaded with artificial sweeteners. Don't worry. Just stick with me and I'll get past the marketing hype for you and decipher the truth. I'll also give you some ideas for great alternatives to artificial sweeteners as well as alternatives to sugar or corn syrup sweeteners.
The fact is, artificial sweeteners vs. sugar or corn syrup is really just a battle between two evils. Which evil is worse?
I'm sure you already know the problems with sugar or high fructose corn syrup sweetened products. The excess empty calories, blood sugar spike, and resulting insulin surge this creates in your body not only promotes fat gain, but also stimulates your appetite further, making things even worse.
On the other hand, artificial sweeteners save you calories, but there's growing evidence that they can increase your appetite for sweets and other carbohydrates causing you to eat more later in the day anyway. Therefore, you don't really save any calories at all. Also, studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can stimulate high insulin levels in your body too, which again can promote fat storage.
All of the 4 artificial sweeteners listed above are nasty chemicals that the human body is simply not meant to ingest. However, most of us are ingesting a whole lot of these chemicals on a daily basis. Aside from the problems I touched on so far, other health issues that have been related to artificial sweeteners in scientific studies as well as observations are:
- some have been linked to potential cancer risks
- negative effects on the liver, kidneys, and other organs
- stimulating cravings
- gastrointestinal problems
- developmental problems in children and fetuses
- and too many more issues to list
Now some of the above potential health problems are definitely not proven as fact in studies. However, some of them have been shown in animal studies given high doses. Also, if you do some research, you'll find hordes of people that attribute the use of artificial sweeteners over the years with all sorts of illnesses in themselves or in family members.
Regardless of the fact that any real health problems for actual human use are not proven yet, I don't know about you, but I'd rather protect myself and my family and steer clear of these possibly dangerous artificial chemicals.
Of course, despite all of the health issues potentially associated with artificial sweeteners, the companies that sell the products will continue to claim that they are fully safe. Don't believe them! The bottom line is that the body was not designed to deal with foreign substances like artificial sweeteners. Take my word on that one.
So what are your options for alternatives?
Well, your best alternatives for sugar or corn syrup are either raw honey, organic maple syrup, or even a little-known high antioxidant syrup called sorghum syrup (common in the southern US). Even though these alternatives still have the same amount of calories as sugar or corn syrup... honey, organic maple syrup, and sorghum syrup actually provide some nutrients and antioxidants, so it's not just empty calories. Empty calories such as white refined sugar stimulate your appetite more because your body is lacking nutrients.
Now you're probably thinking that you'd like to still save on calories but avoid the nasty artificial sweeteners. Good news... You can!
If you have read any of my recipes, you've probably seen me reference this natural sweetener a lot. It's called Steviva. I've been using it for years as an alternative sweetener when you still want to save a little on calories and sugar but don't want to harm your health with artificial sweeteners.
Stevia is not artificial like the other chemical sweeteners I mentioned above. Stevia is a natural non-caloric herb that's been used for thousands of years in some parts of the world. It is a South American herb and when dried into a powder, has a sweetness about 200-300 times stronger than sugar.
One problem I've noticed with using Stevia is that the pure powder is a very powerful sweetener, so you can easily use too much. However, I've found some good Stevia products that use a bulking agent added so that you can measure out the stevia powder in direct comparison to measuring sugar.
I've yet to see any negative reports or health concerns regarding Steviva and only positive potential health benefits. I definitely give Stevia my seal of approval. Do yourself a favor (and your family), and if you are currently an artificial sweetener junkie, consider switching to Stevia.
You can use it in your coffee or tea, to sweeten up plain yogurt, added to smoothies for extra sweetness, on cereals or oatmeal, in baking, or where ever else you might need a sweetener but want to reduce the sugar content.