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Laura Dolson

Thoughts on Artificial Sweeteners

By April 16, 2009

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sugarVery often, I am asked my opinion about artificial sweeteners in general, or one particular one. Since my blog on Monday I have received several emails on the subject.

I have long planned to do an in-depth study of the research of the individual sweeteners. I am aware of some of it, and some general issues with different ones, but I am by no means an expert. Nevertheless, here are my current thoughts on the subject.

The fact of the matter is that if we all ate only fresh foods with no additives such as texturizers, preservatives, colors, sweeteners, etc, we would probably all be healthier. Interestingly, I have noticed both in myself and in others, that as we eat in ways that are aimed at improving our health we tend to gradually move to a more "pure" way of eating, and gain more interest in where our food comes from and what it is doing for us. This seems to come naturally and without a lot of extra effort. However, the fact is that most of us consume some foods which are processed to some extent.

So what do very small amounts of these chemicals do to our bodies over a long period of time? The fact is that we just don't know, nor is there any way to really test it. The FDA and similar regulators have had to be content with shorter studies using quite a lot of the substance. Most of the artificial sweeteners are several hundred times sweeter than sugar, so only small amounts are used as food additives. However, these and other chemicals could have effects with longer exposure of small amounts.

I have always found it interesting that people are more suspicious of sugar substitutes than other food additives. For example, when a study comes out showing a negative effect of diet soda, the conclusion is often that it must be the sweetener causing the problem, rather than any of the many other chemicals in a typical diet soda.

People often ask me specifically about stevia, which is made from the leaves of a plant which has been used for at least centuries for its sweetness. It's somewhat logical to conclude that substances such as this must be "safer", but unfortunately I don't think we have evidence of that. After all, herbs that were used in ancient times to help heal people have been used in modern times as the basis for powerful drugs, even chemotherapy agents, which can have very serious side effects. We aren't chewing on stevia leaves these days, but consuming a very refined product, so I don't jump to the conclusion that it is necessarily better than other sweeteners.

Sometimes people will insist that a little sugar is better than an artificial sweetener. My opinion is that it depends on how well your body processes sugar. For me, anything that sends my blood sugar up is probably not a good thing, and I prefer to have a little something with a sugar substitute, which satisfies the urge for something sweet without sending my body off track. But I have admiration for people who forego all sweet foods -- I'm not there yet!

Photo © Sanja Gjenero

April 16, 2009 at 3:44 pm
(1) Cindy says:

Thoughtful post Laura.

I got a couple of surprisingly intense headaches when the diet sodas switched from Nutrasweet to Splenda. I couldn’t understand what had changed in my life, but then a light went on. I looked up on the net about these additives, thinking maybe I had aspartame withdrawal of some kind. Anyhow, right around that time I got exposed to Dr. Blayblock and his views on MSG and the artificial sweeteners in general. Since then I got away from a lot of that, and went cold turkey with the diet sodas and other things containing the diet sugars.

Now, everytime I go back to anything with the fake sugars, even the Atkins candy bars, or even one packet of Sweet and Low in ice tea, I get a ‘twinge’ of a reminder of similar headaches.

According to Blayblock, just because we don’t have “symptoms” doesn’t mean we’re not being affected.

So, I got off all that a few years ago but was still not on low carb, up until the last three weeks. One of the things that kept me reluctant to even attempt low carb again was knowing I wasn’t going to have the Atkins candy, shakes, nutrasweet created treats, etc.

But somehow I got back on, Thank God, Thank God.

You look really good and healthy by the way. Did you lose a lot on low carb? Are you on maintenance?

As for the decision to eat this or that, believe me, I am strongly motivated by concern of hurting myself. Some motivation of looking better, and a lot just around the whole feeling better thing, but from what I see in my nursing work, if there’s still time to save myself an unsavory end, I’d like to give it my best shot. Whatever happens now, I’ll know I did my best.

April 17, 2009 at 7:48 am
(2) lowcarbdiets says:

Cindy, there are definitely people who have reactions to almost any substance, so I’m glad you found what was going on with your own body — good for you!! I was talking in more general terms.

I lost about 35 lbs initially on low-carb, and then have stabilized at about 25 lbs less than my top weight, where I have been for about 6 years, very stable. I am still quite overweight, but this seems to be where my body wants to be. The really good part is that my blood sugar, blood pressure, lipids, etc, all normalized and some of that is still improving after 8 years! My LDL cholesterol goes down and HDL goes up each year. So I’d like to be lighter, but I am definitely healthier!

April 17, 2009 at 11:20 am
(3) Our_Health_Is_Our_Wealth says:

I think extra weight can be a good thing as we get older. What’s more important is what’s in your blood stream, and yours sounds good. I’ve seen some pretty heavy older people doing pretty well.

The problem with doctors and most people, is that in order to show that they protected the person, they have to insist on cholesterol meds and so on. I think most doctors have given up on the whole diet/weight thing. But I bet several have seen more success with low carb. When I mentioned this to my doctor a while back, she seemed pretty ignorant of the low carb thing and it’s value for people with the obesity gene. Amazing!

As for artificial sweeteners, I guess we all take chances and if I never had the headaches after 40 years of use, I would still be at it.

April 20, 2009 at 4:13 pm
(4) DAR says:

We may not know what small amounts of “artificial sweeteners” will do to us in the long run, but I DO know what sugars will do to me immediately! I’ll take my chances with sweeteners that don’t raise my BGLs or weight.

BTW, I don’t consider erythritol to be any more “artificial” than table sugar. I stick mostly to it and liquid sucralose.

April 20, 2009 at 7:09 pm
(5) Joan says:

Of course my situation is different than most, but I am grateful for the severity of this ketogenic diet. My new sensitivity to chemicals has been such a blessing! Right up there with the OCD to make this crazy diet work! Had I not gotten to the point of purity that I could sense any chemicals, I don’t think I would have made the discovery of inflammation being a trigger for my seizures, and therefore would have thought the diet to be a failure.

April 21, 2009 at 8:00 pm
(6) Sue says:

The drugs that are based on herbs are obviously changed in some way – a molecule or two removed and changed otherwise it wouldn’t be able to be called a drug and patented. So even though it came from a herb it is completely different and will act completely differently in the body.
Herbs in the wrong hands and in the wrong amounts can be dangerous too.

April 27, 2009 at 3:29 pm
(7) maresa kiger says:

I’m 74 years old and have been diagnosed (some time ago) with Fibromyalgia. I also have osteoarthritis which is very painful during certain weather changes. I am about 30 pounds overweight but cannot seem to get my metabolism to “spark”. I do use stevia but am wondering what “toxins” play with the pain factor. I have had IBS for a number of years and am very limited as to what I can eat. Vegetables must be limited and fruit is an absolute no. A low carb diet is a tough one for me! I’d love to exercise but the arthritis makes it nearly impossibe. Is there any type of exercise I can use to jump start my nearly dormant metabolism. Help would really be appreciated–any suggestions? The extra weight is killing my knees!!

June 24, 2009 at 10:35 pm
(8) kaitlyn says:

they give cancer to lab rats, i would think that they are no better for us than them.

February 17, 2010 at 7:16 pm
(9) Rachel Flores says:

Does anyone know much about Almond Milk? I bought some to try, it has 2 carbohydrates per cup, and of course, says it is non dairy. It comes unsweetened also, and vanilla or plain.

April 5, 2011 at 10:43 pm
(10) Carolyn says:

Just wanted to tell you I am an 80 year old woman and I’ve been using saccharine and SweerNLow since I was 18 years old and don’t think it has hurt me. Sugar has never been acceptable to me. I have 6 children (1 deceased) and they are all healthy. Maybe I have just been lucky.

May 23, 2011 at 7:19 pm
(11) Barbara says:

I am on a low carb eating program for insulin resistance and I use atkins low carb bars for snacks 1/3 of a bar with a cup of green tea, so I would have about 1 and 1/3 a day
I would like to know the consensus on whether these bars or should I say the maltitol content are acceptable
I now mix these with a new product that I have found called a High Protein mini bar by” Well Naturally “( 3.1 gr of carb)
It has sorbitol and sucrolose in the ingredients Would this be a better choice

November 24, 2011 at 9:12 am
(12) Pat says:

I used to drink diet tonic and coke.I had aches start in my shoulders it got so bad I couldīnt lift my arms to reach into my cupboards.In bed at night I couldīnt lay on my side as they it was so painfull.Then my hand started to hurt I thought I had arthritus.I was sent a n e mail called Sweet Poison.I also looked up ASPARTAME on the internet and when I saw the different affects on many people,I stopped Diet drinks.If anything said sugar free I avoided it.After a couple of weeks all pain subsided and now pain free.A friend of mine had the same problem.When I told her of my experience she also stopped sugar free foods and drink and now she is also painfree.

February 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm
(13) John says:

Dear Laura , I drink water , tea , aloe , and tart fruit juices without added sweetener , including unsweetened lime juice , lemon juice , tart cherry juice , and cranberry juice . Why do people need a sweet taste ? Thank you . John

April 12, 2012 at 5:32 am
(14) Melbourne_Mum says:

Hi, just wanted to say I’ve been doing Lo-carb for a month. First two weeks were great. 3rd week I discovered Atkins Endulge choc bars which are delicious. Had one per day. Then I discovered I lost no weight, had a sore stomach, cramps, bloating etc which led me to this blog (in a roundabout way). Phew!! Now I have found Well Naturally choc bars with erythritol so hope that helps. Looking forward to getting back on track.

April 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm
(15) Laura says:

I have retrained my palate to not need sweeteners. Berries in milk are now as delicious to me as ice cream used to be. I can no longer tolerate any commercially sweetened product. I prefer this to using any kind of artificial sweetener. I’m just not comfortable eating industrial products. I didn’t find it that hard to give up sweeteners and sweets after the first week. Going low-carb is proving harder.

October 8, 2013 at 7:12 pm
(16) Cammy says:

I use to drink 6-7 20 oz diet Pepsi’s a day. When I finally stopped and went cold turkey (not a pretty sight) I felt so much better. The main sweetener in these soda was Aspartame. Now I only have a soda once in a blue moon. To be honest, they just don’t taste that good.

I will use splenda in a few different recipes, but since I have diabetes and have noted an increase in blood sugar after consuming artificial sweeteners, I think, for me, that keeping as many of these products out of my system is the right way to go.

November 4, 2013 at 1:45 am
(17) cpmt says:

ALL ARTIFICIAL SUGARS/SWEETENERS ARE DANGEROUS… from neurological problems, headaches, infertility, and cancer specially aspartame and saccharine. the only one with 0 cal. is stevia with is natural.

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