The benefits of zero-calorie sweeteners are uneven from one to another. All are super-sweet. However, some are harmless and others are not. Indeed, at least one is very dangerous to your health and should never be consumed. Here are a few details that you should know before you choose any zero-calorie sweetener.
What Does Sugar-Free Metabolism Really Mean?
Sugar-free gum. Sugar-free chocolate. Sugar-free drinks. The original goal of being sugar-free in all these consumables, and many more, was to have all the sweetness anyone could want, without unwanted side effects. Unfortunately, ongoing research on non-sugar sweeteners has begun to turn up some unintended consequences lately.
For example, recent studies show that artificially sweetened drinks are associated with weight gain and a higher risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome. This is exactly the opposite of what everyone hoped for. Indeed, the very name of so-called diet sodas implies that they help with dieting, ostensibly for weight control.
Now we find out that non-sugar sweeteners don’t work for weight loss. They may even lead to weight gain..
All kinds of explanations are popping up to explain these research results. Companies that manufacture diet sodas are arguing against this research, which is expected. Doctors (even Dr. Oz!) seem to be catching on about the range of effects from artificial sweeteners. What is absolutely clear at this point is that non-sugar sweeteners are not inert. They are, indeed, metabolized in the human body.
Picking apart the research on each and every zero-calorie sweetener would require a lengthy treatise. My goal for this post is to simply point out what we know about three of the main ones. Consider these comments as a way to think about such things more critically and about what you should look out for in future news reports about sweetened foods and drinks that contain them.
As indicated in the title of this post, I have selected three non-sugar sweeteners for this post, representing what I call The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
The Good – Stevia
Let’s start out with the good news. Lots of folks like to invoke Stevia as a good choice for a non-sugar sweetener because it is natural. Look, strychnine is natural, folks! That is a super-weak argument! Chemistry is chemistry, regardless of the source.
Let’s look instead at what we know about this plant and the sweet ingredients in it. As a group the sweet substances in Stevia are called steviosides. One of the main ones is rebaudioside A.
Stevia whole leaf is very sweet to chew but packs an objectionable aftertaste. Some powdered Stevia extracts still carry this aftertaste. A lot of people don’t like it, including me.
The Stevia aftertaste can be completely ameliorated in different flavored liquid forms. My favorite is a brand called Sweetleaf. This brand offers many different flavors. I love the English Toffee flavor in my coffee. A drop or two of Chocolate Stevia on a fresh strawberry is nothing sort of fabulous. An occasional Berry Stevia in tea is also pretty darned good. The dropper bottles of flavored Stevia are available in many nutrition stores, so a little looking around should get you a local supplier.
Wait! There’s More!
Research on Stevia goes back a few decades. At the moment, PubMed lists just under 300 articles from a search on the term, ‘Stevia’. A quick summary of some of the health results includes the following:
Stevia appears to lower blood pressure in humans who already have high blood pressure.
Stevia may be helpful for glycemic control in diabetics, but this certainly needs more research for definitive conclusions.
In studies on rats, Stevia had anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrheal, anti-tumor, diuretic and immunomodulatory effects. Stevia also increases HDL cholesterol, lowers oxidized LDL, reduces arterial plaque, and improves insulin sensitivity.
That’s great … for rats. I’d like to see the same kind of research on humans, wouldn’t you?
Anyway, that is ‘The Good’ for non-sugar sweeteners. The data are not overwhelming by any means. Nevertheless, Stevia is as good as it gets.
The Bad – Sorbitol
Sorbitol is one of many sweet substances that are classified as sugar alcohols. The main ones, besides sorbitol, are erythritol, maltitol, and xylitol. They are widespread in low-carb nutrition bars, sweetened protein powders, and many other low-carb foods.
I picked sorbitol as the example because it has been around longer, mainly as the sweetener in sugar-free gum, desserts, and candy. The reason it I call it ‘bad’ is that it acts as a laxative. Maybe you want a laxative effect from your foods and might therefore consider this a ‘good’ sweetener.
The gastrointestinal distress caused by sorbitol comes from its role as a food for your intestinal bacteria. Although this is not exactly a toxic reaction, it is undesirable for many of us. The other sugar alcohols cause the same problems, although generally not as intensely as those caused by sorbitol.
By the way, I would also classify most other non-sugar sweeteners as bad. These include saccharin, sucralose, acesulfame potassium, and cyclamates. Yes, you can still find cyclamates in diet sodas, even though they have been banned in the U.S. since 1969. They are still widely used in diet sodas in the U.K. and other parts of Europe.
Although all of these artificial sweeteners have drawbacks, they have their place in foods and drinks for diabetics. I don’t consume them and I don’t recommend them. However, they are only ‘bad’, not evil.
The one artificial sweetener that is absolutely evil and should never be allowed to enter your body is ‘The Ugly’ one – aspartame.
The Ugly – Aspartame
Let’s get started with an interesting and scary factlet about this substance: aspartame is unstable when heated above 96 degrees Farhenheit.
It breaks down to release methanol and formaldehyde.
Yup, if you are thinking ahead here you already realize that this breakdown happens as soon as you consume any product containing aspartame, assuming that you have a healthy body temperature of 98.6 degrees.
This breakdown also happens in diet sodas that are transported in hot delivery trucks. It happens in the summertime in garages where people store discount diet sodas. It happens in diet sodas delivered to our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The suspicion is that methanol-containing diet sodas have even contributed to the Gulf War Syndrome.
Methanol is 100 times more toxic in humans than in any lab animal. Formaldehyde irreversibly binds to and inactivates enzymes and other proteins.
How Ugly Can This Be?
Aspartame is by far the most dangerous food additive on the market.
Books and articles have been written about the dangers of aspartame for decades. I suggest that you spend just a little time looking at the results of a search on Google using the phrase, ‘aspartame side effects’, and see what comes up. If it is not enough for you to eliminate this evil substance from your diet, then best of luck to you.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that our FDA approves its use, thereby siding with manufacturers about its supposed safety (ah, the power of Monsanto!). Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. Many of these reactions are very serious, including seizures and death. Just a short list of these reactions includes headaches/migraines, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, vertigo, memory loss, and joint pain.
Furthermore, many chronic diseases can be triggered or worsened by ingesting of aspartame. These include brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, mental retardation, lymphoma, birth defects, fibromyalgia, diabetes, and autism.
The widespread use of aspartame reflects a history of corruption between the food industry and the FDA. One of my former university colleagues, Dr. Woodrow Monte, has been battling this issue for more than 30 years. If you are really interested in knowing more about how bad aspartame is and what is behind this whole mess, the best source of information is Prof. Monte himself.
To make things a little easier, here are the best places to start your research:
1) Prof. Monte’s first website dedicated to the topic: The Truth About Stuff.
2) The book that he has written about the whole subject, here: While Science Sleeps.
3) An extensive 90-minute interview of Prof. Monte by Dr. Joseph Mercola, which is available on YouTube, linked here:
All the best for your health,