Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners
Some popular sweeteners come from father chemical lab rather than Mother Nature. A few artificial sweeteners were even discovered by accident in a biochemistry lab—when a chemist tasted a by-product of an experiment and discovered it tasted sweet, down the hall ran the researcher to the financial officer. Another fake sweetener entered the world of fake foods. Do you really want to eat an accident? My advice is: If Mother Nature didn’t make it and food chemists tinkered with it, don’t eat it. Here are some of the pros and cons of these common sweeteners.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
HFCS is not recommended as a sweetener because it is a cheap sweetener included in many junk foods and can potentially cause you to overeat. HFCS is not “natural” and is produced in a factory rather than grown as a plant. This is an important distinction, because, unlike ordinary table sugar, the body may not have developed genetic mechanisms to digest and metabolize it. Food scientists call this a molecular misfit, meaning that the body has not had thousands of years to adapt to it, metabolize it, and welcome it into our body. While you may pay a cheaper price for it, you pay a higher illness price. Unlike ordinary table sugar, which is around half and half glucose and fructose, HFCS is 55 percent fructose, 42 percent glucose, and 3 percent other sugars. Nutritional biochemists are concerned that the body cannot handle the extra fructose in HFCS.
Additionally, the fructose and glucose molecules in table sugar, sucrose, are linked by a chemical bond. During digestion the intestinal enzymes break this bond. With HFCS, because the fructose and glucose molecules are not bonded to each other, they are more “free” and the intestinal enzymes are not needed to unbond the two sugars. Some trusted nutritional researchers claim that the extra fructose goes right to the liver where it can cause molecular mischief, raising levels of triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and possibly decreasing the heart healthy HDL cholesterol.
Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet)
According to a 2008 meta-analysis review of 160 scientific studies on Aspartame, 74 studies were funded by the aspartame industry, and 86 were independently funded. All of the industry-funded studies supported Aspartame’s safety, yet 92 percent of the independently-funded studies uncovered some concerns. The main concern is in the way that the factory-produced chemical may be broken down in the body. Aspartame is phenylalanine that is broken down into methanol, which is then further broken down into formaldehyde in the body. Supporters claim that methanol (a solvent), and perhaps even formaldehyde, are sometimes formed during the metabolism of normal food. But if this is true, why put more of this stuff into your body? Supporters say not to worry because formaldehyde is rapidly broken down into water and carbon dioxide, and quickly excreted from the body. Neurologists are further concerned about the possible effects of Aspartame on brain function, labeling it a neurotoxin. In summary, Aspartame is a dumb sweetener, especially for two age groups: the rapidly-growing brain of infants and children, and the difficult-to-regrow brain tissue of seniors.
Sucralose is touted as “natural” because it’s “made from sugar,” but in reality it has been chemically modified to create a cheaper sweetener. Some also claim because it’s 600 times sweeter than sugar, you can eat less of it but still enjoy the sweetness. It also contains no calories, supposedly has no aftertaste, and doesn’t degrade with cooking at high temperatures. Furthermore, manufacturers claim sucralose is not absorbed in the body. With regard to this last claim in particular, let’s look at the science. According to studies published in the Federal Register, the official publication of the U.S Food and Drug Administration, scientists found that 20-30 percent of the ingested sucralose does get into the body. An even more scary fact about Splenda is scientists are not sure how the sucralose that gets into the body behaves. Again, when in doubt, leave it out.
Acesulfame Potassium (Sweet and Low)
This artificial sweetener is such a byproduct of chemical tinkering that its real chemical name would take up a whole line. Suffice it to say that the trusted Environmental Working Group (see EWG.org) put Ace-K on its list of the “the dirtiest dozen” chemical additives to avoid, and, not surprisingly, aspartame also made the hit list.
Unlike the previous sour chemical sweeteners, Stevia, in its natural form, comes from a plant. Besides being much sweeter than ordinary table sugar, it is non-caloric and non-glycemic (doesn’t raise blood sugar). Although Stevia starts out as a “natural” plant substance, there are some chemical processing concerns in getting it from the leaf to the food. While approved in most other countries, it is still being looked at by the appropriately-cautious United States government regulatory agencies. According to the U.C. Berkeley wellness newsletter of April 2009, the FDA has granted GRAS status to an extract of Stevia called rebaudiosidea, which is now used in some soft drinks. They also mention that it has still not been approved by the European Union or Canada, so the jury is still out. While it may prove to be non-harmful to the body, some folks don’t enjoy the bitter aftertaste of Stevia.