You’ll find them in just about everything. From succulent candy, sodas and snack foods to sweetened medicines. They also appear in drinks marketed to kids. Most significantly, artificial sweeteners are found in many products marketed for people with diabetes. They are commonly known as Splenda®, Equal®, and NutraSweet®. Yet despite the widespread acceptance of these artificial sweeteners, they come with a price— potential damage to your health. Here are some of the spooky sugar substitutes, and why you should think about avoiding them.
Found in: Splenda®
Sucralose is sweet, but not to your body. Manufacturing sucralose involves chlorinating sucrose, which produces a sweetener laced with the carcinogen chlorine. Although long-term studies of sucralose are lacking, it’s hard to believe that the product is entirely safe, especially considering the reports of shrunken thymus glands and enlarged livers and kidneys as a result of sucralose ingestion. The claim that sucralose is a carcinogen has been dismissed by the FDA, but hasn’t been dismissed by many heath experts. Sucralose may also cause certain side effects including headaches, abdominal cramping, weight gain, mood alteration, fatigue, and insomnia.
Found in: Sweet ‘N Low® , Sugar Twin®
It used to be that products containing saccharin also came with a warning on the label: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.” Since 2000, the labeling was repealed, due to inconclusive retesting.
The keyword here is “inconclusive,” yet there are suspicious links between the use of saccharin and cancer, particularly bladder cancer. Whether or not saccharin is really that harmful, the sweetener does have additional reported side effects: headaches, skin irritation, respiratory problems, digestive discomfort, and even muscle dysfunction, to name a few.
Found in: Equal®, NutraSweet®
Perhaps the most popular artificial sweetener on the market today is aspartame, found in those little blue packs of Equal® or in NutraSweet®. The safety of this sweetener is under serious question.
Through hydrolysis, aspartame may produce methanol or wood alcohol, known to be highly toxic to humans. Methanol affects the nervous center and optic nerves, possibly causing vision problems, headaches, dizziness, confusion, and respiratory failure. Methanol metabolizes within the body into the harmful compound, formaldehyde. Phenylalanine is another component of aspartame. When coupled with specific amino acids, phenylalanine becomes a neurotoxin. It is also known that persons with phenylketonuria (PKU) should not consume aspartame (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002150/), due to potential nervous system and brain damage. Although the FDA puts its stamp of approval on aspartame, it seems too big of a risk to take on your health.
Found in: Sweet One®, Swiss Sweet®, Sunett®
This sweetener has been found to prompt insulin secretion, and as a result, hypoglycemia. Critics also claim that acesfulfame potassium is carcinogenic, due to the fact that tested lab animals developed lung tumors, breast tumors, leukemia, and chronic respiratory. Again, it is a sweet substitute approved by the FDA, as well as by European food authorities, but its risk-free health effects are dubious at best.
Besides the harmful side effects in the ingredients of artificial sweeteners themselves, there is another negative effect of using them. Because of their intense sweet flavor, artificial sweeteners cause the body to crave higher amounts of sweetness. As a result, people are more likely to eat greater amounts of sweet food, whether sweetened with artificial additives or with actual sugar. Either way, this higher sweet consumption produces a negative result—unhealthy levels of sugars, or unhealthy levels of artificial sweetener.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Found in: a lot of foods
Many snack foods, packaged desserts and sodas contain HFCS. High fructose corn syrup is inexpensive to produce and works well for commercial-batch food production techniques, but it is not a good dietary choice. There is specific concern regarding the intake of fructose and the rise of insulin resistance and diabetes. In addition to the concerns over fructose, there is the broader concern about too much sugar in the diet. The nation faces an epidemic of obesity, yet we continue to purchase and consume vast amounts of sugar. High fructose corn syrup is the most common culprit in this sugar-saturated diet.
For a person with diabetes, sugar intake is a constant concern. Is it possible to eat sweets, and not experience adverse effects on one’s health? Regardless of whether or not a person has diabetes, everyone should think of sweets as something that can be enjoyed in small amounts (and preferably not sweetened with artificial sweeteners). Despite the abundance of sweet food available—from Halloweeen to Thanksgiving to Christmas—put your health in perspective and make smart decisions.