Artificial Sweeteners: Hero or Villain?

Friday, December 5, 2008

There are those who claim that aspartame (Nutra-Sweet, Equal) and sucralose (Splenda) are the cause of a huge list of health disorders. I find it hard to believe that one chemical, by itself, could cause so much damage when used in moderation (although I am watching aspartame as another possible migraine trigger).

I hear so much about the dangers of artificial sweeteners that I sometimes think I should give it up, along with foods containing refined sugars or high fructose corn syrup. But, because I’m the type of person who rarely adds sugar to anything, is it necessary? Would I be consuming enough of these things to make avoidance of the occasional “sweet treat” worth it?

Is it the artificial sweeteners themselves that are a danger to dieters – or the types of food in which they are contained? Sugar-free cookies are still cookies. And whether those cookies contain a zero-calorie artificial sweetener, refined sugar, or organic sugar, the other ingredients around the sugar still contain empty calories. Follow me?

I tend to buy sugar-free products – not necessarily for dietary reasons, but because the ingestion of sugar makes me feel kind of poopy and sends me straight to the couch for a nap.

So where is my artificial sugar intake? Pudding, jell-o, sugar-free maple syrup, DaVinci Gourmet flavored syrups, and the occasional brown sugar Splenda on sweet potatoes or oatmeal. I don’t eat any of these things on a daily basis.

Where I don’t add sugar: Coffee, tea, cereal. And I rarely have a soft drink – maybe one glass every two or three months. When I’m hungover.

Things I enjoy that are sweet enough without ANY added sugar: Strawberries, bananas, grapes, watermelon, apples, unsweetened fruit juice and applesauce.

Sugar in any form is one of those things that becomes an addiction – the more you have, the more your body craves. And the funny thing? The more fruit I have, the more I crave. Point being? Once I started eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily (usually two fruits and three to five vegetables), the refined sugar cravings pretty much went away. I started to crave the fruit instead.

Plus, eating all those fruits and vegetables takes time. Especially if the vegetables are raw. Chew, chew, chew. You hardly have time to run out and find some sugar. And if I DO get a craving for something sweet? Sugar-free jell-o to the rescue. Artificial sweetener and all. Saved me many times from grabbing a cookie or four. Or a pumpkin pie. And, my friends, I think that’s a GOOD thing.

Some related links:

An interesting table of sugar alternatives

An article on 124 reasons to avoid sugar


My Year Without said...

Hi! I find your musings about sugar very honest and down to earth. I wanted to let you in an a little secret about artificial sweeteners that many people don't know too much about. That is, Pepsi and Coke (now both owned by one giant company) are getting ready to take all artificial sweeteners out of their formula. Here is a link to the article I wrote about and there is a further link within:

Anyway, I think you might be surprised how much sugar and high fructose corn syrup is in things....most all packaged foods have these ingredients, or other scary artificial ingredients. Scary because they are CHEMICALS and not even food! What happened to the good old days of moderation eating foods, not chemically derived variations of what once was a food product....

Whew, anyway, keep eating those fruits and veggies...I know what you mean about eating them and then you do actually lose your craving for sugary items. I've been without sugar all year so far! I depend on fruits more now than ever!

Melissa S. said...

In college my Organic Chemistry teacher said sweet n low should have a skull and crossbones on the front, and that if it was made in China instead of the US there is no way the FDA would allow its use.

Anyways, here is a great article on natural sugar substitutes:

Mrs. Jelly Belly said...

Thank you both for your comments and the interesting links.

Yes, trying to do without sugar and eyeballing labels for HFCS is challenging enough without having to give up the artificial sweeteners, too.

MYW - I am inspired by your progress - and I love your blog!