You probably know the negative health effects of eating too much sugar, especially “added sugars” like in soda pop, candy, baked goods, and many commercially-available cereals, just to name a few. Added sugar is hiding just about everywhere in the grocery store.
Yes, ingesting refined sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin, and increases your risk for a whole host of issues like diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, weight gain, supressed immune system, along with an increase risk of depression, and cancer.
A while ago, one of the food industry’s responses to the demand for lower-calorie foods that still taste great, was artificial sweeteners.
The idea behind them is that you can still get the sweetness, without the calories; like when you have a “diet pop” versus a regular one. Theoretically, this was going to help people maintain a healthy body weight, and hopefully not increase anyone’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.
But, it doesn’t always work out the way we think it will…
Types of Artificial Sweeteners
Sugar substitutes fall into several categories, but what they all have in common is that they have a sweet taste and fewer calories than plain sugar.
Today we’ll specifically discuss “artificial sweeteners,” which are synthetic chemicals where a tiny bit tastes very sweet.
They’re also known as “non-nutritive sweeteners,” and include things like:
- Saccharin (Sweet & Low),
- Acesulfame potassium (acesulfame-K),
- Neotame (Newtame),
- Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet, AminoSweet), and
- Sucralose (Splenda)
Health Effects of Artificial Sweeteners
Negative health effects from artificial sweeteners are cited all over the place, and while many studies show effects, others don’t. Cancer? Maybe yes, maybe no. Heart disease? Maybe yes, maybe no. Not to mention that much of the research has been on animals, which may or may not translate to people.
I did want to point out one ironic thing, to do with artificial sweeteners and weight.
One study found that people who tend to drink diet sodas have double the risk of gaining weight than those who didn’t.
Another study has shown an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.
While these results don’t apply equally to everyone, they do somehow seem ironic, don’t they?
How do artificial sweeteners affect our bodies?
There are so many ideas out there to try to explain it, but the reality is we don’t know for sure; plus, it might play out differently in different people.
- Is it because people feel that they can eat cake because they’ve switched to diet soda?
- Perhaps it’s because the sweeteners change the taste preferences so that fruit starts to taste worse, and veggies taste terrible?
- Maybe artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for more (real) sweets?
- It can be that the sweet taste of these sweeteners signals to our body to release insulin to lower our blood sugar; but, because we didn’t actually ingest sugar, our blood sugar levels get too low, to the point where we get sugar cravings.
- Some even say (and at least one animal study suggests) that saccharin may inspire addictive tendencies toward it.
- Maybe there is even a more complex response that involves our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels.
On of the things we do know is that a lot of these artificial sweeteners (especially aspartame) are neurotoxins. Aspartame is actually the most contested product in FDA history. I’m not going to get into the politics of how it got approved, however, even at the time of trials it’s been shown to produce brain cancer in lab animals.
Aspartame is an excitotoxin that affects protein synthesis. It affects how the synapses operate in the brain, affects DNA, and ultimately can affect numerous organs. So you can get many different symptoms that seem unconnected. However, most people get neurological type reactions to it (often headaches).
As a teen and into my early 20’s I was a serious gum addict. I wish I would have known the negative health effects back then. I suffered from almost daily headaches and never even considered that the little pieces of “sugar-free” gum filled with aspartame I would chew on the dairy could be the culprit. Early into my health journey I cut it out once I found out the effects and did a homeopathic style neurological cleanse and I couldn’t believe the side effects I was feeling. This is when I realized how much I had been affecting my health. #livelearnteach
Sugar alcohols come from plant products such as fruits and berries. The carbohydrate in these plant products is altered through a chemical process and have about half to a third the calories or regular sugar. Most common ones are sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, and erythritol.
When you look into the health effects of sugar alcohols, most of what you read is actually positive. The one biggie that makes these products on the “don’t over do it” list is that they are partially resistant to digestion. They act like a dietary fiber and are a type of FODMAP (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols), which are poorly absorbed by the body, often resulting in abdominal pain and bloating. This is because your gut bacteria are working overtime to try and break them down. So depending on your gut health, your response to sugar alcohols will vary. Healthy gut, less reactions.
This sweetener is extracted from the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana plant and has no calories. It’s about 200x sweeter than sugar per concentration which means a little goes a long way!
There are some studies that are showing that stevia could actually be helpful for treating diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. In my opinion, this is most likely due to the fact that less sugar and synthetic sweeteners are being consumed and that it’s not spiking insulin levels nor affecting your liver.
A 2010 study showed that stevia actually lowered insulin and glucose levels and that participants were satisfied and full after eating, despite the lower calorie intake!
Understand that added sugar is not good for you, but the solution may not be to replace them all with artificial sweeteners.
I highly recommend reducing your sugar intake, so you naturally re-train your palate and start enjoying the taste of real food that isn’t overly sweet. This way you’re reducing your intake of added sugar, as well as not needing to replace it with artificial sweeteners.
Try having ½ teaspoon less of sugar in your hot morning drink. Try reducing a ¼ cup of the sugar called for in some recipes. Try diluting juice with water. And if you’re wanting something sweet, try using Stevia!
Your body will thank you!
There are also a lot of options on the market for healthier treats. Such as gum’s sweetened with Xylitol (like Pur) and pop’s sweetened with stevia (Zevia) or naturally sweetened with essential oils (La Croix).
If you’re looking to find out if you have an accumulation of neurotoxins or need a cleanse, sign up for your free 30 min consultation where we’ll go over your Whole Body Health Profile and see where the main imbalances are in your body.
Looking for a Healthy Treat?
Here is a delicious recipe for a hot chocolate that not only tastes amazing but is also soothing to the tummy! xoxo
Soothing Hot Chocolate
1 cup unsweetened almond or coconut milk
2 tsp coconut oil
1 tbsp cacao powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 dropper’s worth stevia
1 drop peppermint essential oil (pure, therapeutic grade (doTERRA), safe for internal use)
Dash sea salt
Whisk and heat in pot. Enjoy!
Optional extra add in’s:
+ 1 tsp maca powder for added hormonal balancing
+ A dash cayenne powder for added spice
+ 1 tbsp collagen powder for your hair, nails, skin, gut health, and more!