Artificial Sweeteners Side Effects: Real or Imagined?

Artificial Sweeteners Side Effects: Real or Imagined?

Posted on 19. Jul, 2011 by in Nutrition

I’ve always wanted to find out the real deal about artificial sweeteners side effects but just never had the time. Lately though, I’ve been trying out different natural sweeteners because of their flavors and ended up researching their nutrient breakdowns and possible health benefits. So, I thought it would be great to compare natural versus artificial sweeteners as a lot of you probably have similar questions as I did.

My research started mainly because I was so intrigued by palm syrup. I encountered palm syrup a few weeks ago when I tried out the master cleanse diet by Stanley Burroughs. If you’d like to find out more about this cleansing program, you go to the distributor’s website at neeranatural.com. But, I will not discuss it in further detail here. I mentioned it because I loved the flavor of palm syrup so much, it made me want to use natural sweeteners now.

Zero to Low Calorie, Artificial Sweeteners Side Effects

The first question I wanted to address is the question about artificial sweeteners and their side effects. I will talk mainly about the two most popular artificial sweeteners, Aspartame, and Sucralose.

Aspartame received its bad reputation after several e-mail hoaxes spread throughout the internet about its alleged disease causing properties like cancer and multiple sclerosis. If you are not familiar with Aspartame, you might know it better by its most recognizable name brands, Nutrasweet and Equal. After reading several scientific studies, I found out that Aspartame is safe unless you have a genetic disease called Phenylketonuria. One of Aspartame’s byproducts in the body is phenylalanine which can cause detrimental effects to those born with this disease. Long story short, if you don’t have this disease, you can take Aspartame. The FDA has also released a statement about it and you can view the statement here: FDA Statement on Aspartame.

Splenda

The next artificial sweetener is Sucralose which goes by the name brand, Splenda. Sucralose is 300 times as sweet as table sugar and is not broken down by the body which is why it is mainly a zero calorie sweetener. The FDA reviewed data from 110 safety studies in humans which looked for possible toxic, carcinogenic, reproductive, and neurological effects. After reviewing these studies, the FDA declared it to be safe for everyday use. The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends an average daily intake (ADI) of 9 mg/kg of body weight. This translates to about 24 tablespoons a day for a 125 pound person which is a lot more than what most people would use in a day.

Natural Sweeteners that Make the Grade

While artificial sweeteners have the advantage of being zero to low calorie when it comes to fat loss, I like natural sweeteners for their taste. The added benefit to natural sweeteners is they usually contain vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to our health. What are natural sweeteners? For the purpose of this post, I define natural sweeteners as those that come from nature and are minimally processed. Here is a list of some of the natural sweeteners that I like to use every now and then:

Stevia

Stevia is a type of leaf from the Sunflower family. Like Aspartame and Sucralose, stevia is also non-caloric. Even though it is a plant, it still received controversy and was even banned in the Unites States and other countries. But, Stevia has been used in countries like Japan for decades and in South America for centuries without any side effects. Stevia is made by extracting the sweet compound called Rebaudioside A (or Reb A for short) from the leaf. I mostly use Stevia in my coffee or to add a hint of sweetness to my lemon water.

Pure Maple Syrup
maple-syrup13

[Maple Syrup Farm]

Maple syrup is made by collecting the sap from Maple trees and boiling it to make a thicker consistency. This makes the syrup very minimally processed. But, you have to be careful in reading the labels when buying Maple syrup. Most of them can be imitation or contains very little maple syrup like the ones you can find by the pancake mixes at the grocery store. Make sure to read the label and the ingredient list should only contain Maple syrup and nothing else. You can get this syrup in different grades. Grade A is fairly light in color and flavor while Grade B is darker and has a stronger maple flavor. I use Grade B to top pancakes or for cooking.

Maple syrup is a good source of Calcium and potassium and contains traces of vitamins like Thiamin, Riboflavin, and Niacin.

Honey

Honey is probably the most popular natural sweetener because of its great flavor and nutrient content. While still a sugar, it does have traces of antioxidants in it including Vitamin C. This means that it offers more nutrient value compared to table sugar. Like Maple syrup, Honey is minimally processed and can even be eaten in its raw form. Most types of Honey are only filtered to remove wax and pollen. But, there are also highly processed forms of it like the pasteurized kind where the honey is subject to high forms of heat which can destroy its nutrients. I like to put Honey mainly in tea or if I’m making a protein shake after a workout.

Blackstrap Molasses

I am fairly new to using Molasses but before I bought my first bottle, I did my research on it. I chose unsulfured Blackstrap Molasses because it comes from mature sugar cane. Molasses that come from young sugar cane need sulfur during the extraction process and I like my sugars as minimally processed as possible. Not having the sulfur can also result in better flavor. When I first tried it in my cereal, I thought it had a really strong caramel taste. If you’re thinking of using it for the first time, its best to try it with a recipe with the exact amounts or put smaller amounts at first. I mainly use molasses for sweetening my oatmeal but I don’t use a lot of it. I have yet to try it for baking because i don’t do much of it but it can withstand heat which makes it ideal for baking.

Molasses is a great source of iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. One (1) tablespoon of it supposedly contains about 20% of our daily value for these minerals.

Palm Syrup
syrup_palm

The syrup that started my research. I was so surprised how rich Palm Syrup tastes. To me, it has a light caramel flavor. This is probably the lowest calorie syrup amongst all the syrups I’ve mentioned in this post. It has about 40 calories per 1 tablespoon. I found that I don’t need to use a lot of it because I like it mainly for the flavor and not the sweetness. It has a dark brown color and a similar consistency as maple syrup. Like Molasses, Palm Syrup contains potassium and calcium.

Of all the sweeteners I’ve mentioned this is probably the most difficult to find and when you do find it, it is rather pricey. The one I found is left over from the cleanse I mentioned earlier in this post and costs about $47 for a 1 litre bottle. I also put this syrup in my oatmeal and it makes my pancakes tastes amazing. This would have bee the best sugar substitute in my book if not for the difficulty of finding it.

Should You Make the Switch to Natural Sweeteners?

In my opinion, moderation is the key when it comes to carbohydrates and sugars. Carbohydrates are so commonly available in our society nowadays that we have to be more aware of our carbohydrate intake. I love sweets but I’ve learned to moderate my sugar consumption. Natural sweeteners are a great alternative to sugar because you are getting some vitamins and minerals from it but we have to remember that its still sugar and it still affects our insulin and blood sugar levels just the same. Long story short, use them to add more flavor to your meals but use them moderately.

I hope you enjoyed today’s post. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to leave them below.

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