How Sweet It Isn't: The truth about artificial sweeteners

A side effect of being a calorie-phobic society is the creation of zero calorie non-foods to give us what we crave (sweets) without adding to our caloric load. Since the cyclamates of the 50’s (banned in ’69 in the US due to connections with cancer) the food manufacturing industry has been turning out one artificial sweetener after another, often with deliterious effects. Each new version is reported to have no known side effects…partially because testing has been skewed (if the industry sponsors the study, do you think they’ll publish unfavorable results?) and partially because a 12 week study cannot determine long-term effects.

Let’s look at the list….

Cyclamates – listed as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) by the FDA in the 50’s, then pulled in ’69 due to links of bladder and testicular cancer in lab animals.

Saccharin: actually the oldest artificial sweetener, it rose to popularity after the Cyclamate ban. Some studies also link it to cancer; while others claim it is safe. It is derived from coal tar, which is (insert sarcasm here) known to be a wonderful benefit to the human diet. It is still permitted to be sold in the USA, although it must carry a warning label demonstrating its link to cancers in lab animals. It is stored in pink packets.

Aspartame: aka Nutrasweet, often sold in the blue packets. Aspartame is made by combining 2 amino acids together using methanol. At temperatures of 86 degrees, the compound breaks down (which is why nutrasweet is not suitable for baking). The end effect is methanol floating in the system. Methanol is a precursor to formaldyhyde and formic acid (the toxin in fire ants). None of these products are ideal for conserving healthy living tissue.

The side effects of nutrasweet are common and widespread. In my practice I have seen it linked to headaches and blurred vision. A client who worked for a neurologist told me her boss had it banned from his office. Aspartame breaks down in the body and stays in fatty tissue, favoring storage in the eyes and brain. Most side effects are related to these areas of the body. No other compound approved by the FDA has received more complaints than Nutrasweet.  Dr. Mark Hyman notes that of the 166 safety studies conducted on aspartame, 74 were partially funded by interested industry parties and 92 were independently funded. 100% of industry sponsored studies concluded aspartame was safe, 92% of independent studies link aspartame to potentially cause adverse side effects.

Splenda (sucralose): The newest to join the market, Splenda is made from replacing some of the hydrogen atoms in the sugar molecule with chlorine. Initially it was determined to be unrecognizable by the body and not broken down. Newer research shows the body is able to partially break down and absorb sucralose. Given the track record of our food industry and artificial sweeteners, I’m not jumping on the Splenda bandwagon, and I reccommend my clients stay away as well. It’s too early to tell what the side effects will be, but I’m pretty certain they will begin showing up in 5 years or so. Some early studies are showing alterations in gut flora (in rats) and potential to trigger migraines in certain individuals.

The Bottom Line:

All artificial sweeteners are made form compounds that are NOT recognized as nourishment by the human body and most have pretty significant potential side effects. Studies published in the International Journal of Obesity and Behavioral Neuroscience indicate that consumption of artificial sweeteners may lead to increased caloric intake and weight gain – the exact opposite of what they are advertised to do! Certainly we can look around us and see the introduction of calorie-free sweeteners has not reduced our weight as a nation.  We are definitely more overweight than we were in the 70’s and 80’s and have more cancer, diabetes and heart disease as well. The evidence clearly indicates that artificial sweeteners are not the answer to our health issues.

A Visual: Obesity Rates 1985-2008

Obesity Rates (by % of population) Increase from 1989 to 2008

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  1. “All artificial sweeteners are made form compounds that are NOT recognized as nourishment by the human body and most have pretty significant potential side effects”

    I agree. Artificial sweeteners are bad stuff.

  2. As it was explained to me, these compounds block the liver’s ability to metabolize and then fat builds up in the system and is deposited in the tissues. I lost 70 pounds in 2008 by doing away with all (most) processed foods in my diet.

    That first sentence may not make much sense, but I’m just a cook! 😉

  3. […] via How Sweet It Isn’t: The truth about artificial sweeteners » Vibrance Nutrition and Fitness Blog. […]

  4. Mike,

    That is a fantastic testimonial to the deleterious effects of convenience foods! Congratulations on your successful return to health! That’s very inspiring!
    How did you work through cravings? What are your favorite “treats” these days?

  5. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the newest trend – the ‘all natural’ Stevia.

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