It seems that everyone I meet has heard of some “negative health effects” associated with artificial sweeteners. In fact, aspartame, which can be found in over 6000 products such as diet coke, has been dubiously linked to brain tumors .
Some people have vehemently avoided all other sweeteners for fear of encountering the same faith. Before we explain what sweeteners are to be avoided and which sweeteners are an excellent alternative to sugar, we should outline the most popular sweeteners in the world today.
Here they are on particular order:
These sweeteners exist in almost every product that is labeled “diet”, “lite”, ice-creams and even protein powders. The easiest way to see is to flip over the product and have a look at the label. Splenda is one of the worst offenders because it is an artificial substance despite the claims that it is made from natural sugar. It is actually made by adding chlorine to the chemical sugar structure making it similar to pesticides. Although Splenda is heavily marketed as being healthy, don’t be fooled by the label.
Splenda can also mimic the effects of sugar in the body and can sometimes leave you with more cravings and a higher insulin level in the body as well.
Aside from Splenda, lets look at the other accusations sweeteners have been attacked with. Some health issues concerned include:
linked to potential cancer risks
negative effects on the liver, kidney, and other organs
developmental problems for children (and even foetuses if you are pregnant)
The problem with these accusations are that they are anecdotal in nature and are not backed up by strong scientific evidence. In fact, linking one particular ingredient to a certain disease is extremely difficult for scientists to do. The reason is because there are so many factors outside of the experiments’ control. These include other foods people consume, income level, exercise regularity, alcohol and environment (in terms of air we breathe etc. . .).
To really examine how the science can be misleading, we should look as aspartame because I read a brilliant article about it the other day demonstrating the flaws in science and the bias in the mainstream media.
Aspartame is the Scapegoat
Aspartame, by all accounts, is one of the most popular sweeteners of all time. For companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, aspartame plays an important role in their business. Aspartame is in Diet Coke which is marketed as a more healthy alternative to regular coke. Obviously it’s not the ideal drink compared to water and aspartame plays a big part in the criticism Coca-Cola receives.
Aspartame has been accused of playing a role in brain tumors despite no academic evidence. This first observation came about in the 1970s when aspartame was first being used. Early studies suggested that the increase in brain tumors coincided with aspartame usage. This is an example of poor science because the studies are relying on correlation and not causation. These are two completely different things. The official stance on from the cancer.org website is as follows:
“Complaints of various health issues have circulated since aspartame first appeared on the market in the 1980s. But for most people, no health problems have clearly been linked to aspartame use.”
I have been unable to find any academic papers that show causation of tumors relating to aspatame. I have only been able to find correlation.
Another thing that is curious about aspartame is that it has never been actually linked to weight gain either.
Bottom Line: Aspartame is a scapegoat used by media when they need to sell papers. Food testing is an extremely difficult science due to the various factors that can change results. There has been no conclusive study done about aspartame dangers but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy either. As Jack LaLanne used to say “If man made it then don’t eat it”.
Saccaharin and your diet
This is an example of another sweetener that may have been misunderstood because originally it was found to cause cancer in rats. Now I am not going to defend this sweetener as much as aspartame because the the research isn’t there. In fact, it is found once again to be lacking and I would put this down to the difficulty of safely testing ingredients for human consumption. Simply put the process is very complex. Numerous organisations, such as the U.S Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, have removed saccharin from there list of banned chemicals. The reason was that they simply couldn’t find any conclusive evidence. Saccharin has been known to cross over the placenta however.
Bottom Line: Again, just because the science indicates that they were unable to find any satisfactory link between saccharin and ill-health, does not mean there is none. It is best to err on the side of caution with this one.
Stevia and Raw Honey, The Only Natural Sweeteners That Have Not Received Any Criticism
Stevia is the final sweetener that we will discuss and it is unusual because it is the only sweetener that occurs naturally. You can grow it or you can buy it in a powder form to mix with water. It is delicious when you add it to tea. However, I have heard anecdotes that stevia is an acquired taste or that it even tastes bland. Despite this criticism, I think it is worth acquiring the taste so you can remain on the safe side with your health.
Stevia has not been found to have any health effects and because it is not widely known, it has stayed out of the harsh limelight of the mainstream media powerhouses for now.
Another great alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners are raw honey, maple syrup or sorghum syrup. These syrups are not only devoid of “empty calories” (like the ones found in soda drinks) but are also packed with vitamins, minerals and are high in natural anti-oxidants.
Conclusion: Although, I would not recommend artificial sweeteners because there is simply not enough information about them, there is no scientific evidence to back up the harsh claims that are made against them. Papers like the New York Times do not delve into the scientific research because if they did then they would fail to find a shocking story. However, it is still best to be careful about sweeteners and to use your own tests to see if they work for you or not.