Fear-mongering is rife in the world of sugar and sweeteners. You’ll find countless articles claiming that both sugar AND artificial sweeteners are toxic, secretly make you fat, tax your digestive system and adrenals, lead to allergies, are cancerous, and will ultimately kill you.
We’re not going to sit here and echo any of these extreme arguments because, truth is, most of them are based on badly conducted studies and are purposely misleading. Or they draw from no studies at all. Many of them, in fact, are rooted in the appeal to fear – a common tactic used by marketers to push their products through by scaring you to the point that you don’t even consider looking elsewhere.
What we may suggest is why you might want to consider decreasing your consumption of artificial sweeteners, or at least why you should have a greater understanding of these! Not because you should be scared about them leading to your early death but because there are far better options out there. And because your purchasing decisions should not be driven by fear, by deceptive marketing, or by a simple lack information. Your purchasing decisions should be driven by a clear understanding of what it is that you’re buying and ultimately choosing to ingest.
FEAR OF THE TOOTH
If you ask people why they choose to buy products containing artificial sweeteners, many will tell you that they have a FIERCE sweet tooth. They’ll tell you that, without sweeteners, they’d succumb to sugar: the ultimate bad guy in the world of healthy eating. To them, sweeteners are something that they NEED in order to ‘appease’ their menacing sweet tooth and keep their cravings – and the pounds – at bay.
You know what though? This fear is largely unsubstantiated. By cutting back on sweeteners and focusing on nutritionally-optimising your diet, you won’t end up simply gorging on sugar. Quite the contrary, your tastebuds become better tuned in to sweetness so that with less, you find out you’re able to appreciate much more. Of course, we’re not saying that the answer is simple or refined sugars. There is, after all, unequivocal evidence pointing towards table sugars’ ill effect on our health (and our bodies), particularly when consumed excessively. Saying otherwise would be ridiculous.
DOSIS SOLA FACIT VENENUM
There is no concrete scientific data pointing towards the artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes commonly added to our foods as unequivocally harmful to our health. There’s no evidence that INCONTROVERTIBLY shows that sugar substitutes like sucralose (e.g. Splenda), xylitol, sugar alcohols and processed stevia are harmful when taken in small quantities. As Paracelsus wrote more than 500 years ago, ‘dosis sola facit venenum’ – i.e. the poison is in the dose! And moderation, with everything, is key.
That being said:
NOT ALL SWEETENERS ARE CREATED EQUAL
Without a doubt, some sweeteners are more ‘natural’ than others. Aspartame and ace-K are completely synthetic, meaning they were conceived in a lab by manipulating chemical peptides. Others, like sucralose and sugar alcohols (e.g. xylitol, maltitol, isomalt, and sorbitol) are created by modifying the structure of the sugar molecule. Stevia and lo han guo, on the other hand, are industrially extracted from plants (from the Asian Siraitia Grosvenorii and the South America Stevia Rebaudiana, respectively). All sweeteners differ too in terms of the body of scientific evidence that has been stacked up against them, with aspartame and ace-K being are the most controversial sweeteners in the market.
Let’s look at three points to consider when choosing foods and drinks that have been artificially sweetened: