When artificial sweeteners first came out they were thought to be a panacea; all of the sweet enjoyment, none of the calorie guilt. What we (the public) weren’t told was that they were known to cause migraine in people who are susceptible. The argument was, we have to balance the “small” risk of migraines against the obesity epidemic. Artificial sweeteners were touted as the solution we needed. As you’ve likely noticed, it didn’t work out that way. In fact, obesity is worse than ever. And while studies funded by the industry haven’t found adverse side effects, 90% of independent studies do.

A few “issues” to consider:

  • Artificial sweeteners are not digested but they have been found to raise insulin. Because they aren’t digested they end up in the large intestine and negatively affect the microbiome, which raises insulin.
  • Government approval of sucralose (made from table sugar by replacing three hydrogen-oxygen groups with chlorine atoms and sold as Splenda in the US) has been correlated with a doubling of cases of irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease. While correlation isn’t causation, it is worth noting that this has held steady across all of the countries who have approved sucralose for human consumption. If you have gut issues, eliminating artificial sugar might be worth trying.
  • Aspartame (Made from the feces of genetically modified E. coli bacteria [I wish I was making this up]. Sold as NutraSweet and Equal in the US and used in many diet drinks) turns into formaldehyde in the human body. The industry (and the government) says a small amount won’t really hurt you. But overtime it has been shown to damage the neurological system and the immune system. The concern is what is a “small” amount? Is that a one-time measurement or a “small” amount every day over a lifetime?
  • Stevia (Made from the stevia leaf by isolating and concentrating the sweetness using heat and chemicals. Sold as Truvia and SweetLeaf). In high doses it causes mutagenic gene damage (a fancy way of saying it causes your cells to replicate incorrectly). If you stick with two (or less) stevia sweetened drinks a day it can be considered “harmless.” (We won’t be using it.)
  • Artificial sweeteners taste sweeter than real sugar (up to 300X), tricking the human brain into thinking it is taking in calories. When those calories don’t materialize, we are more likely to overeat later.

The use of chemicals to avoid calories doesn’t seem to be the healthiest choice. The human body can process sugar calories (honey, agave and maple syrup act the same way) but table sugar has zero nutritional value. If you need a sweetener, date sugar (made from drying whole dates) and black strap molasses (a by product of making table sugar) at least provide some nutrients with the calories.

Full disclosure: We have honey, maple syrup and table sugar in the house. I (Robyn) use honey in my tea on occasion and maple syrup in a few recipes. The table sugar is left from before we switched to eating whole-food plant-based. I see no reason to throw it out. Having a treat sweetened with something your body can actually process isn’t a huge deal as long as you know you’re taking in sugar and making the choice consciously.

If you are ready to address how your food choices are negatively affecting your health, let’s set up a free get-to-know-you chat. Send me an email and let’s get you on track to taking control of your stress eating. Health@RnRJourney.com

Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.