ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS: not SUCH A SWEET DEAL
So, now we all know why white sugar is harmful to us (if not, read our blog post on sugar).
I touched on artificial sweeteners last time, but many people still have so many questions
about using them. I mean, it sounds great – the sweetness of sugar without the blood sugar
spike, without the calories – and, therefore, we are told, without the weight gain. If only
things in life were so simple…
We have been led for decades to believe it’s okay and even HEALTHY to use these sugar substitutes. This couldn’t be further from the truth– I often tell my clients I would rather them use a small amount of sugar than almost any artificial sweetener! That word – artificial- is the most important reason we shouldn’t use these. If it’s not natural, our bodies are NOT made to handle it! These are chemicals developed to mimic what sugar does! Sure, a lot of these sweeteners say they’re “natural” – but, come on – we know that we don’t have any aspartame or sucralose plants!
The components of these chemical sweeteners actually can be found, in small amounts, in the foods we eat. But the thing about eating whole foods is that there are other aspects of the foods that help our bodies process them.
Whenever your body tries to process an unrecognizable substance, you set yourself up for health problems. And it’s not even the components of these sweeteners themselves that are toxic to your system. It’s the breakdown products they turn into along the way — either during transport, on the store shelf, or during the metabolization process.
For example, let’s look at aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet, Diet sodas). The two primary components of aspartame are amino acids that are consumed in the foods you eat, and are harmless when consumed as part of natural unprocessed foods. However, the effects of these chemicals in their “free form,” which your body does not recognize, can result in immediate health concerns such as headaches, mental confusion, dizziness, and seizures.. The high concentration of these chemicals in the form of aspartame floods your central nervous system and can cause excessive firing of brain neurons and cell death – a condition called excitotoxicity. Ultimately, aspartame will be fully absorbed into your body and can result in longer-term health consequences as well, ranging from anxiety attacks, nervousness, sweating, feelings of fear, heart palpitations, depression, and tremors, to blindness, kidney damage, and an increase in your risk of breast or prostate cancer. In pregnancy, this can cross the placenta, and can reach levels so high that cell death results – there is even cause for concern that consumption of high doses of this chemical during pregnancy could result in birth defects., and babies under a year are four times more sensitive to excitotoxins than adults. I know I’ve heard all of this before, but every time, it reinforces how much I do NOT want to be anywhere near this stuff! (For more information specifically on aspartame and how it is broken down in our bodies, see here ).
Sucralose, or Splenda, may not affect our brains the way aspartame does, but it still can cause us damage. Sucralose does start out as the same molecule as sugar. But it is so chemically changed that our bodies don’t recognize it as food! The same goes for any other artificial sweetener – the list of negative side effects of these chemicals should make anyone hesitant to use them – thyroid issues, breathing problems, rashes, decline in kidney function, blood sugar spikes, and, yes, weight gain! Your brain is not tricked by these chemicals; artificial sweeteners will not make you stop craving sugar, as it does not satisfy the same part of the brain. Some studies show that artificial sweeteners may also decrease your body’s ability to distinguish calorie intake, causing you to indulge in more food and therefore gain weight.
So what can you do? If you absolutely MUST have something sweet, my top recommendation is stevia. It does come from a plant and is not artificial. Coconut sugar, real maple syrup, and local honey are all good, natural choices as well. However, I cannot stress enough that ALL of these should be occasional treats; even these can affect those who are sensitive to insulin. If you are having intense cravings for sugar, please let us know – we will work on what your body and/or diet is missing in order to balance you out!