Sugar substitutes were first developed in the 1950’s when a clinic director worked to develop a sugar-free diet for patients suffering from diabetes and other chronic conditions. The industry took off, and today diet sodas and sugar substitutes make up a huge part of the market. The idea that sugar substitutes are healthy alternatives is rooted in the American psyche, no matter the evidence to the contrary. Worse yet, the prevalence of artificial sweeteners, corn syrup and refined sugars in the majority of American foods have created a country of sweet-addicts.
We are wired to crave some sweetness in our foods, especially during the winter and in childhood. This craving was meant to drive us to take in healthy carbohydrates in the form of naturally sweet plant foods. Due to the extravagant amount of sweeteners in the majority of our foods and their extreme levels, many of us can no longer detect natural sweetness in healthy plant foods. We’re not wired to handle this exorbitant amount of sweetness. This excess triggers unhealthy food cravings and addiction.
The craving children have for natural sweetness (for growth and development) would normally wane in adolescence. Instead, this waning is defeated by sweet addiction. When we eat refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, our brains believe that we’re getting nutrients we need. Instead, we don’t get any real nutrients, so appetite and food cravings are re-triggered. Our bodies aren’t looking for more sweetness necessarily-they’re looking for real food! Furthermore, when we take in these low-nutrient foods and drinks, we have less room for the good stuff.
Diet Sodas and Drinks
Diet soda has been linked to kidney damage and diet sodas and sweetened water beverages are linked to weight gain!
At the University of Texas, diet-soda drinkers prove to be heavier than non-diet soda drinkers. Lead researcher Sharon Fowler says, “There was a 41% increase in risk of being overweight for every can or bottle of diet soft drink a person consumes each day.”
Purdue University scientists have found that in a rat study, artificial sweeteners increased caloric intake, body weight and body fat percentage.
And addiction? Cocaine-addicted rats choose saccharin-sweetened water above and beyond cocaine-doses, even when the researchers upped the drug levels!
Sweetened food and drink actually changes the taste buds, creating cravings for more sweetened foods.
One study looked at brain activity in women that ingested water sweetened with sugar and that sweetened with sucralose (what you might recognize as Splenda).
Both sweeteners activated pleasure centers in the brain, but sucralose didn’t produce as much satiation. The craving wasn’t really satisfying and so triggered increased cravings for more sweet stuff.
The nutrients that many sweetened waters are said to contain are often present in only the most minuscule amounts or are in forms that our bodies can’t make use of. Isolated vitamins and minerals don’t have the beneficial health effects that those in whole foods do. It’s the whole package-the combination of protein, lipids, carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals-in plants that produce positive health effects.
The following are some of the most common (and most dangerous) food additives used today.
This brand-new artificial sweetener is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Little research has been done yet but early studies have linked it with certain cancers and thyroid conditions.
Artificial flavoring can mean that a food or beverage contains any one of 3,000 allowable chemicals, many of which have negative health effects.
Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet)
Aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sugar. The FDA file of complaints concerning aspartame ingestion includes reports of dizziness, headaches and memory loss. Some studies suggest it is a carcinogen.
Benzene is produced by the bottling process of many beverages. It is a noted carcinogen that has been linked to heart rate issues, infertility and seizures.
Cyclamates are among the first artificial sweeteners used in diet drinks. They were once banned by the FDA because of suspicion of their link to cancer but they are once again up for FDA approval.
Many food colorings are linked to ADD/ADHD, asthma and cancer. Although several of these are banned in other countries, the US commonly makes use of Blue #1 and #2, FD &C colors, Ponceau, Red 2 (Amaranth), Red #3 (Erythrosine), Red #40 (Allura Red), Tartrazine, Yellow #2G, Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow), Yellow #23 (Acid Yellow).
Saccharin (Sweet n’ Low)
Saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sugar. The public stopped purchasing products made with the sweetener when they learned of it’s possible link to cancer. Studies didn’t ‘prove’ this link, so it is once again common in many artificially-sweetened foods. Saccharin is linked, however, to addiction to sweetness, obesity and overeating.
Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than table sugar. Sucralose was an accidental discovery: it was originally part of a new insecticide compound. Chlorinated compounds such as sucralose were thought to pass through the body undigested. Recent research has found that up to 40% of chlorinated compounds become stockpiled in the intestinal tract, kidneys and liver. Chlorine has been classified as a carcinogen.
Reversing the Addiction
We can reverse our addiction to unhealthy sweeteners and restore our ability to taste the natural sweetness in whole foods over time. It will seem difficult at first, but I can’t encourage you more strongly to put down the diet sodas and the colored sweetener packets! These chemicals are foreign to our bodies and will not help you achieve any of your health goals.
Replace artificial sweeteners (and refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup, etc.) with natural sweeteners like stevia, xylitol and small amounts of agave nectar or raw honey. Stevia is my personal favorite, as it is a no calorie, natural sweetener from the stevia plant. You will want to make sure you use a high quality brand that has not been overly processed. Stevia is also a great option for people dealing with diabetes, as it will not spike your blood sugar levels.
In the long run, your best bet is to use very little of even these natural sweeteners so that your body’s cravings, food triggers and metabolism are restored to healthy functioning.