Artificial Sweeteners

Although artificial sweeteners are popular, since everyone wants to have their cake and eat it too, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any harm involved.  Aspartame is widely used as a sugar substitute and just as widely denounced as dangerous.  You will find widely opposing views between the it’s-poison camp and the it’s-fine camp.  The it’s poison group says no one should use it – ever.  They cite anything from cancer causing to actual poisoning and the popular assertion that it breaks down into formaldehyde in your body (it doesn’t).  There are the conspiracy theories saying the government is hiding all this from you.

What’s Hype and What’s Fact

Of course aspartame is not the only artificial sweetener on the market.  Others include sucralose, acesulfame potassium, and stevia.  The companies that sell artificial sweeteners say they are fine, advocacy groups say they cause cancer and the sugar companies say sugar is better (why wouldn’t they?).

Many experts, like Yoni Freedhoff, medical director of Ottawa’s Bariatric Medical Institute, cite numerous studies conducted over the years that have failed to prove artificial sweeteners unsafe.  There are claims they can actually make you gain weight, to which, he responds that the data is flawed since the entire diet is not taken into account.  His question is, are these people overeating in addition to consuming artificial sweetener.

Interestingly, both a Dutch study and a Harvard Med School study found that dieters who chose artificially sweetened foods lost significantly more weight that the group that did not.  They also fared better in the follow up period after the study.

On the Horizon

The most recent entry in the alternative sweeteners category is Stevia.  Stevia is made from the leaf of the stevia plant so, in theory, it is natural, as opposed to the other options which are chemically produced.

Healthy Choices

There are many conflicting opinions and evidence on both sides of the artificial sweetener debate and consumers are wise to be in possession of all the facts in order to make an informed choice.  You are the best guardian of your health.  Whether you are for or against artificial, the best choice for everyone is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet that includes lean meat, plenty of fruit and vegetables and a few sweets, no matter what the source, along with plenty of exercise.  Healthy is still the same concept.

Natural Sugar Substitutes

Another option is natural sugar replacements.  One emerging alternative is coconut sugar.  “Coconut sugar is nutritious and has a low score on the glycemic index,” and can be used in the same way as regular sugar.  Other sugars include date sugar, honey and maple sugar.

Artificial sweeteners can help with cutting down on your caloric intake and losing weight, but should be a short term solution on the way to better eating habits.  These products may be perfectly safe, but there are many unknown factors.  We are surrounded by processed foods containing many ingredients we, as the average consumer, know nothing about.  There is a movement back to natural in recent years as people discover that nature doesn’t need improving upon.

Photo Credit:  Thinkstock

Do you use artificial sweeteners?