5 Artificial Sweeteners that are Really Bad for the Health

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The combination of American’s growing problems with weight and its incredible sweet tooth have led in recent decades to a veritable tsunami of artificial sweeteners flooding the market; they are now in a variety of “light” or “low-calorie” foods and appear everywhere from chewing gum to infant formulas. However, new research has come to light that, far from helping to shed those unwanted pounds, these artificial sweeteners may actually lead to weight gain, especially the gain of unwanted belly fat.

One new study recently — published in the peer-reviewed journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism — found that many artificial sweeteners, acting on the hormones, can actually increase the craving for sugars, leading to an increased risk for obesity and subsequent complications like diabetes and heart disease. While more research is certainly called for on this subject, avoiding the following sweeteners is truly a healthy choice.

1. Saccharin
Although it is actually 300 times as sweet as sugar, this substitute is often mixed with other compounds due to the fact that it has a somewhat metallic aftertaste. For nearly 20 years, the US Toxicology Program had this sweetener on its list of carcinogens. Even though it was subsequently taken off this list in 2000 for supposed lack of evidence, this move was controversial and remains so to this day. It is included in products like Sweet N’Low.

2. Sucralose
Sucralose has 600 times the sweetness of sugar, and yet still contains no calories. It is found in a number of food products, especially those claiming to be “diet” foods, but multiple studies have shown that its chemical compostion is not really compatible with the human digestive tract and that it cannot be properly metabolized. Some people have experienced gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, cramping or intestinal pain, headaches, skin irritation, light-headedness, edema or agitation when taking this product. This is the main ingredient in products like Splenda.

3. Acesulfame Potassium
This is not one of the better-known sweeteners, but it still can be found in a variety of products. There is still more research needed on whether or not this artificial sweetener can cause cancer. Concerns revolve around one of its ingredients, methylene chloride, which has been identified as a carcinogen. This product is marketed under brands like Sunett and Sweet One.

4. Aspartame
One of the most notorious of the artifical sweeteners, aspartame has been awash with bad publicity for years now and accounted for nearly 75% of consumer complaints made to the FDA last year. And with good reason. It is linked to a whole array of health issues including neurological/psychological issues like depression, migraines, Alzheimer’s disease, aggressive behavior and suicidal ideation. There are many studies also trying to make the link between it and the formation of brain tumors. It is contained in products like NutraSweet, Equal and Sugar Twin.

5. Neotame

This is the newest of the sweeteners available on the market and was produced by the industrial giant Monsanto. It chemical structure is similiar to that of aspartame and one of its metabolites, too, is formaldehyde. In addition to this, it contains another chemical called 3-dimethylbutyl, which is listed as a harmful chemical by the Environmental Protection Agency. One of its brand names is Sweetos.

One and all, these sweeteners, despite promises of weight loss and a healthier diet, are anything but healthful. A better alternative to any of these is to consume small amounts of regular sugar or, better yet, to use sweetners like honey, maple syrup, agave or monk fruit extract which are naturally sourced and can bring with them added health benefits that artificial sweeteners cannot.

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Christine . S
Christine has written articles on most health-related topics, including traditional medicine, alternative and naturopathic and natural treatments, wellness, medical marijuana, diets and fitness.

  • samuel Cohen

    I am Diabetic so what sweeteners should I use?

    • HealthyGirl

      Coconut sugar does not raise blood sugar level, so it is good to go for diabetics.

      Stevia is also a good sugar substitute.

    • jillinois

      I"m also diabetic…. I use regular sugars, but count the carbs in them to know the portion limits. My A!C is always around 6%.

    • Carol

      Stevia & Monk Fruit.

  • jillinois

    I can't stand stevia, but Nectress isn't bad. Erythritol is my 'go-to' for things like cereals or cinnamon 'sugar'…. no aftertaste, natural, and comes from the sugar cane processing 'process'. Honey and maple syrup are still concentrated forms of sugar. Agave has varying effects on people. I do OK with it- have heard some don't. There are sugar alcohols, which are natural- but gotta be careful with portions or end up on the commode all day (laxative effect- and it hits fast).

    • apm

      Oh you are SO wrong. Coconut sugar is glucose and fructose – oh yes, what a surprise the exact same components as sucrose. And yes, it will raise blood sugar levels. Stevia is a non nutritive sweetener made of refined plant leaves. (Yes, it is refined from a leaf to the crystals you put in your coffee). Similar to sucralose and aspartame. Most people claim it has a very nasty aftertaste.

    • Jane

      Try Stevia!

  • Non

    Organic stevia (Trader Joe's is one store that sells it). Some people with blood sugar issues also can tolerate raw agave nectar or coconut palm sugar.

  • Patricia

    I'm not diabetic and I don't use any sweeteners. We just stay away from them period. My husband and I gave up sugar for lent. We were big sweet tea drinkers. I said that was what I was going to miss the most. He said lets just drink it without the sugar. I was not on board and the first couple of weeks I did not like it at all. But my taste buds changed and now I love it. It just took a while to adjust. There are berry teas, peach mango teas, and so many others to choose from. Little changes can really add up. We don't buy any goodies and use our calories on real food. Fruit tastes so much better to us now. We really enjoy the natural sweetness. My husband has lost weight and is telling all his friends they should try cutting back too.

  • apm

    There is no scientific evidence that sweeteners like aspartame and splenda are in any way harmful unless used in humongous quantities. Note that this article does not cite any references, they did not find any.
    If you are diabetic and just want an occasional treat you should use one of those. For a diabetic honey, molasses, agave, syrup are just another name for sugar and will spike blood glucose similar to sucrose. Sugar alcohols like Xylitol should be avoided due to the osmotic diarrhea after affects.

    • Dawn

      Not everyone has this response to Xylitol…case in point…myself. I would caution scaring some away from Xylitol, as it can help with the transition from other sweeteners to eventually no sweetener. I've heard varying opinions, from Fitness Trainers that have extensive experience, to well respected and nationally recognized Holistic Physicians. Raw/Unheated Honey and Xylitol, and possibly Coconut Sugar are the top 'go to' sweeteners. They are Low-Glycemic, and the top three that are most recommended if you must have a sweetener in your food and/or beverage. I've done significant research for myself, but would recommend that each person evaluate their specific needs, physical limitations, and Holistic Physician recommendations, as typically, Osteopathic Physicians are usually the best resources for nutrition concerns, questions, and recommendations.

  • Elaine McFadden

    Dr. Woodrow Monte explained to us how the weak bond of the methyl molecule is easily broken in the duodendum and is then about to travel out of the intestine to the bloodstream where it then makes its way to the brain. Able to cross blood-brain barrier, the methyl molecule then eats away at the myelin sheath around nerve cells in brain causing symptoms of MS. This condition was described to me by former Super Big Gulp Diet Soda drinkers. http://www.smarthealthtalk.com/aspartame-risks.ht

  • Jamie

    I use turbinado sugar in moderation. I put a 1/4 tsp in my coffee and have not had any issues with my blood sugar. If you need something to be more sweet then I suggest Monk Fruit. I use it when I make Chia pudding.

  • Marla

    Going to all die anyway people – eat what you want..

    • Vasile

      High five!