How to Choose the Right Artificial Sweetener
Posted On Dec 09, 2020
If artificial sweeteners are part of your stay-slim plan, be sure you’re choosing the right packet.
By Linda Childers
Those ubiquitous pink, yellow, and blue packets found on restaurant tables across the globe are making headlines, as consumers get savvier about the substances they consume. Artificial sweeteners have been touted as a healthy alternative to sugar, yet evidence suggests they might cause some not-so-sweet side effects.
“Although they’ve been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and declared safe for human consumption, there’s a lot of controversy and potential health risks associated with artificial sweeteners,” says clinical nutritionist Kimberly Snyder, the author of The Beauty Detox Foods (Harlequin, 2013).
It’s often been reported to the FDA that artificial sweeteners—including aspartame (found in Equal and NutraSweet), saccharin (Sweet’N Low), and sucralose (Splenda)—can cause adverse reactions such as migraines and digestion problems. A new study released in September 2013 by Yale University School of Medicine researchers found that artificial sweeteners cause the brain to crave more sugar, leading to increased weight gain.
One suprising culprit is diet soda, which is loaded with artificial sweeteners. “They ramp up calories while offering no nutritional value,” says Snyder.
Aside from weight gain, diet sodas may also lead to long-term health problems. A review of medical studies conducted by researchers at Purdue University in the last year found that people who drank diet soda on a regular basis had twice the risk of developing metabolic syndrome—often a precursor to heart disease—than those who drank other beverages. The Purdue researchers say that consumers should be mindful of how much sweetener they consume on a daily basis, be it sugar or not. Artificial sweeteners register as many times sweeter than sugar.
So what’s a girl to do if she still requires a sugar fix? Snyder, whose celebrity clients include Channing Tatum, Drew Barrymore, Hilary Duff, and Fergie, recommends that you consider trading in aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose for alternatives such as stevia and monk fruit.
“In addition to potentially having a negative health impact, sugar substitutes affect a person’s appearance,” Snyder says. “Artificial sweeteners cause wrinkles and dark circles under the eyes, since they disrupt the body’s ability to consume nutrients and use enzymes.” JJ Virgin, a celebrity fitness and nutrition expert and author of The Virgin Diet Cookbook (Hachette, 2014), says stevia, erythritol, xylitol, and monk fruit are all satisfactory alternatives.
“Monk fruit has been used in China for over a thousand years to treat obesity and diabetes,” notes Virgin. “Rich in antioxidants, with antiinflammatory benefits, one study indicated that monk fruit might also offer some anti-cancer and anti-diabetic benefits.”
Stevia, a natural herb used for hundreds of years in South America, is also an excellent alternative. Virgin notes that stevia can improve metabolic syndrome, making it ideal for people with insulin resistance and diabetes. Erythritol, a sugar alcohol naturally found in a number of fruits and fermented foods, has 95 percent fewer calories than sugar.
Virgin recommends it as a solid alternative to sugar because it doesn’t contribute to dental problems and doesn’t impact blood sugar levels. “Xylitol, which comes from corn husks or a blend of corn, doesn’t raise the blood-glucose levels and has also been shown to reduce cavities and ear infections,” Virgin says. “The downside is that some people who use xylitol report gastric distress.” Virgin shares the warning that the sweetener is toxic to animals and advises keeping it out of harm’s way in pet households.
Naturally speaking, snyder recommends bee pollen as an alternative to sugar. “Bee pollen is overf lowing with vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, and will enhance your overall glow, beauty, and energy,” she says. “Filled with all the B vitamins, it can provide stress relief, improve digestion, and balance hormones while assisting in the cleansing of toxins from the body.”
While it may be easy enough to shun the colorful packets of sugar substitutes, it can be much harder to actually pinpoint all the various foods containing artificial sweeteners. Sugar substitutes are hiding in thousands of various grocery products, including biscuits, a host of savory snacks, non-organic yogurt, chewing gum, low-carbohydrate foods, and many products labeled “lowsugar” or “no added sugar.”
“Consumers need to read labels and carefully scrutinize ingredients,” Virgin says. “Never assume something is healthy. Food manufacturers are very crafty about disguising sugars under different names, including sucralose and aspartame. It’s important to always look for pure sweeteners with no bulking or flavor agents.”
Snyder is especially leery of high-fructose corn syrup and agave, often promoted as safe and natural sweeteners. She cites a recent study conducted at Princeton University that found high-fructose corn syrup caused considerably more weight gain than table sugar. “Agave syrup and agave nectar are promoted as healthy sugar alternatives, but should be avoided by all who want to preserve youthful skin,” Snyder says. “Agave contains a very high fructose content, and studies have shown that excessive consumption of fructose can accelerate the aging process.”
Other sweeteners that Snyder recommends in moderation include raw coconut nectar (“my first choice for liquid sweeteners”) and small amounts of dried fruit such as figs or dates, which can be blended into certain recipes for a sweet lift. Organic pure maple syrup is another natural option.
What’s the best solution to maintaining your health and satisfying your sweet tooth? Snyder says the answer may be as close as your local produce market. “By adding more fruit to your life, you can satisfy your sweet cravings,” she says. “Apples, bananas, cantaloupe, dried dates, apricots, and figs are all fruits that can contribute to beautiful skin, hair, and nails, making them a healthier choice than refined sugars and sweets.”.