The Great Debate: Sugar vs. Artificial Sweeteners

If you’re both weight conscious and health conscious, the question may have come up, as it has for many people, if I want something sweet, which is better, sugar or artificial sweeteners? To a large extent, in our society, sugar has been made the bad guy. As I was growing up, everything was loaded with sugar. People didn’t think much about it, but now many of us are paying the price for it. As people realized that sugar can make us fat and sick, but not wanting to give up the desire for sweet flavors, we turned to artificial sweeteners. Now we’re finding those aren’t such a good choice either. I’ve seen many sweeteners come and go. One will emerge as a safe alternative to sugar, and then we find out that it’s not so healthy after all. So we turn to something else, until we find out how bad it is.

In early days, sugar was not as easy to come by. Our pioneer ancestors had sugar, but it usually came in the form of a brick that you had to work to get a chunk of. The human body is well-equipped to deal with carbohydrates. In small amounts, it can even deal with highly refined sugar. However, it was never designed to have frequent large amounts of it, which cause huge spikes in our blood sugar and wear out both our pancreas and the insulin receptors on our cells.

Our bodies are also not designed to deal effectively with artificial sweeteners, which we would generally classify as chemicals. Let’s take a look at some of these:

Saccharin – I grew up around this one. However, in the 1970’s, it was linked to cancer and thereafter taken off the shelves. The FDA has since decided that it’s not so bad and has lifted its ban. I still don’t really trust it. Besides, it doesn’t taste good anyway.

Cyclamates – This one seemed to come and go fairly quickly. It was linked to chronic toxicity and even implicated in the saccharin/cancer controversy. It is legally used in 55 countries, but not the United States.

Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) – “The safety of aspartame has been the subject of several political and medical controversies, congressional hearings and internet hoaxes since its initial approval for use in food products by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1974.” (Wikipedia) It is a dietary excitotoxin, which can cause pain and trigger flare-ups in people prone to fibromyalgia. Excitotoxins can also make you think you’re hungry when you’re not, causing you to eat more. It is also implicated in fluid retention. So, although the FDA has declared it safe for consumption and it provides sweetness without calories, it could actually contribute to obesity.

Sucralose (Splenda) – This is an extremely sweet chemical sweetener (about 600 times sweeter than sugar). It can also cause you to retain fluid. Many people have some degree of sensitivity to it. Sucralose can cause one to suffer from sluggishness, fatigue, make legs feel like lead weights, mood swings, severe cramps (female), intense pain, painful bowel movements, bloating, dizziness, confusion, and more. As advertised, sucralose starts off as sugar, but then it’s bound to chlorine atoms. The problem is that chlorine reacts with organic material to create chlorination by-products (CBPs) that can trigger chronic symptoms like fatigue, headaches and brain fog, as well as reproductive and immune problems. Sucralose has no calories, but there are sometimes a few calories in the fillers (maltodextrin, etc.) that are often used. In spite of FDA approval and a great deal of usage, I don’t believe it’s been sufficiently studied.

Stevia – This is a naturally occurring substance that’s much sweeter than sugar. A 1985 study indicated that it may cause genetic mutations. However, the World Health Organization has since found that it does not. I don’t yet have much information on it, but as far as I know it’s safe.

Xylitol – This one, although not regular sugar, seems fairly safe. It is actually a sugar alcohol that is found in the fiber of some fruits and vegetables. It’s often used in toothpaste and some chewing gum. It’s not as sweet as sugar and provides less food energy. It’s absorbed more slowly and so it should provide sweetening with less insulin spikes. Don’t go overboard with it though. Although it has fewer calories, it does have about 2/3 the calories of sugar and can have a laxative effect.

So what’s the final answer? Be wary of artificial sweeteners. Do not think that because you’re avoiding sugar, you’re giving yourself a thin, healthy body. Whether you use sugar or sugar substitutes, go easy. If you have strong cravings, see me and we’ll address them.


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