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12 Days of Fitness 2012 – Day 8: Artificial Sweeteners 101

December 17, 2012 0 Comments

(This is Part 8 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful fitness tips over the holiday season)

I wanted to talk to you today about artificial sweeteners because it’s been my experience over the years that there’s a lot of confusion and misconceptions revolving around these non-caloric sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners and the huge list of products sweetened with them are marketed to you relentlessly as “diet foods”, “healthy foods” or “healthier” than sugar or corn syrup sweetened products. But are they really? Here are some of the most popular artificial sweeteners on the market today are:

  • Splenda (sucralose)
  • Aspartame
  • Saccharine
  • Acesulfame Potassium (aka – acesulfame K)

These artificial sweeteners are used in abundance in almost every “diet” drink, “lite” yogurts, puddings, and ice creams, most “low-carb” products, and almost all “reduced-sugar” products. And for you muscle minded folks, even most protein powders are loaded with artificial sweeteners too.

Not So Healthy

Splenda is probably one of the worst offenders of them all claiming to be “healthy” as they say that it’s made from real sugar. Don’t be fooled! It’s still an artificial substance. What they don’t tell you is that Splenda is actually a chemically modified substance where chlorine is added to the chemical structure, making it more similar to a chlorinated pesticide than something we should be eating or drinking. The truth is that artificial sweeteners are not even close to being healthy, and as you’ll discover in a minute, can easily be just as bad for you, if not worse, than sugar or even corn syrup. Most people think that they are doing something good for themselves by choosing the “diet” or “lite” brands compared to the full sugar-laden versions, but the problem is that you’re exposing yourself to a whole new set of problems with the artificially sweetened drinks and foods. The fact is, artificial sweeteners vs. sugar or corn syrup is really just a battle between two evils. Which evil is worse?

The Truth Behind The Science

Most of us are at least familiar with the problems associated with sugar or high fructose corn syrup sweetened products. The excess empty calories, blood sugar spike, and resulting insulin surge this creates in your body not only promotes fat gain, but also stimulates your appetite further, making things even worse. On the other hand, artificial sweeteners may save you on calories, but there’s growing evidence that they can increase your appetite for sweets and other carbohydrates causing you to eat more later in the day anyway. Therefore, you don’t really save any calories at all. Also, studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can stimulate high insulin levels in your body too, which again can promote fat storage.

All of the 4 artificial sweeteners listed above are nasty chemicals that the human body is simply not meant to ingest. However, most of us are ingesting a whole lot of these chemicals on a daily basis. Aside from the problems I touched on so far, other health issues that have been related to artificial sweeteners in scientific studies as well as observations are:

  • some have been linked to potential cancer risks
  • negative effects on the liver, kidneys, and other organs
  • stimulating cravings
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • developmental problems in children and fetuses
  • headaches

Consequently, some of the above potential health problems have not been proven as fact in human studies. However, some of them have been shown conclusively in animal studies given high doses. Despite all of the health issues potentially associated with artificial sweeteners, the companies that sell the products will continue to claim that they are fully safe and they have studies that prove that they are safe. The bottom line is that the body was not designed to deal with foreign substances like artificial sweeteners.

A Sweet Alternative

Your best alternatives? Well for starters, real raw sugar in moderation. There’s also raw honey, organic maple syrup. All three actually provide some nutrients and antioxidants as well as sweetness, so it’s not just empty calories. Empty calories stimulate your appetite more because your body is lacking nutrients.

And if calories still concern you, there’s a natural sweetener called stevia. Stevia is not artificial like the other chemical sweeteners I mentioned above. It is a natural non-caloric herb grown in South America and when dried into a powder, has a sweetness about 200-300 times stronger than sugar.

So in a world where sugar is bad, it’s still superior to any artificial, chemically enhanced substance that could possibly do more harm to your body internally than any number you ever see on the scale.  I have a better solution for that. It’s called exercise!

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you tomorrow for Day 9 of the 12 Days of Fitness

My 2012 Fitness Challenge personal update – 35,100 push ups done as of publishing time




About the Author:

Jeff Harrison is a fitness coach based in Pottstown, PA. He received a BS in Exercise and Sport Science from Penn State University and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), NSCA Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist (ACE-AHFS). Jeff's articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals as well as consumer oriented websites and magazines.

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