What’s wrong with sugar?
Sugar. Once revered and loved by all (sugar was once so valuable that it was used as a form of currency throughout parts of the world), sugar has now become the pariah of the nutrients we consume. Sugar, a member of the group of essential nutrients known as carbohydrates, is used by the body for energy to carry out various functions. The problem is that with the modern, highly processed diet, many people now follow, too much sugar is being consumed on a daily basis. This has been associated with the following health problems: obesity, heart disease, gum disease, tooth decay, diabetes, and cancer just to mention a few. This change in the public’s perception of sugar, left food industry professionals scrambling for sugar substitutes, to maintain the flavor of their products. But are sugar substitutes any better?
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener found in many sugarless products ranging from NutraSweet and Equal to ice tea. It is created by combining the amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid, with methanol, which is a type of alcohol (that is considered toxic to humans). Aspartame has virtually few calories (4 calories per gram) and is much sweeter than sugar (meaning you need less of it to sweeten a drink). However, studies have found that aspartame (which contains the toxic chemical methanol)[i] has been linked with the following: brain lesions (aspartame in lab rats was found to cause holes or sores in their brains), insomnia, headaches, neurological, behavioral and mental disorders, cognitive impairment, brain tumors and cancer just to name some of the associated diseases/conditions.
Saccharin is an artificial sweetener derived from the chemical toluenesulfonamide which is found in coal/tar. It is found in Sweet’ N Low, sugarless beverages and many other food and drink products. Saccharin has been linked to metabolic syndrome, as it may impair the hormones responsible for satiety, which is the feeling of fullness you get, after eating a meal, or drinking a large amount of a beverage. Additionally, saccharin has been found in studies, to increase incidences of cancer of the bladder, uterus, ovaries, skin and other organs. In fact, because of the aforementioned studies, the FDA mandated that saccharin products carry a special warning label, about its possible negative health effects, which was later removed in 2000.[ii]
Acesulfame potassium is an artificial sweetener that is created from a potassium salt. It is used in over 4000 products, ranging from baby foods, to protein drinks. Similar to the other artificial sweeteners previously mentioned, this ingredient has been linked to cancer, metabolic syndrome, and allergies.
Sucralose is a sugar substitute, created by chemically altering sugar, by adding chlorine. It is found in products such as Splenda, and low calories desserts. In studies, Sucralose has been linked to damage to the kidneys, reproductive organs, and the thymus gland (responsible for your immune response), as well as migraine headaches, and inflammatory bowel disease (as it may affect bacteria found in your stomach.)
The FDA has ruled that artificial sweeteners are safe for human consumption, but with all the conflicting information about these chemicals, I would err on the side of caution and avoid these ingredients whenever possible.
Always Remember- Foods are like friends. Choose them wisely!
[i] Methanol can be changed by the body to formaldehyde- the chemical used to embalm the deceased
[ii] The FDA found that there was not enough scientific evidence of negative health consequences to mandate that saccharin products carry a warning label.
Sources of information for article are below:
1 Humphries, P, et al. “Direct and Indirect Cellular Effects of Aspartame on the Brain.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 62, no. 4, Apr. 2008, pp. 451-462
2 Abdel-Salam, O M E, et al. “Studies on the Effects of Aspartame on Memory and Oxidative Stress in Brain of Mice.” European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, vol. 16, no. 15, Dec. 2012, pp. 2092-2101.
3 Schardt, D. “Sweet Nothings: Not All Sweeteners Are Equal.” Nutrition Action Health Letter, vol. 31, no. 4, May 2004, pp. 8-11.
4 Katsue, Hiromi, et al. “Allergic Reaction Caused by Acesulfame Potassium in Foods.” Contact Dermatitis, vol. 71, no. 4, Oct. 2014, pp. 251-25
5 Cong, Wei-na, et al. “Long-Term Artificial Sweetener Acesulfame Potassium Treatment Alters Neurometabolic Functions in C57BL/6J Mice.” Plos ONE, vol. 8, no. 8, Aug. 2013, pp. 1-18.
6 Hull, Janet Starr. “The Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners.” Total Health, vol. 27, no. 1, Feb/Mar2005, p. 30
7 Shankar, Padmini, et al. “Review: Non-Nutritive Sweeteners: Review and Update.” Nutrition, vol. 29, 01 Nov. 2013, pp