Diet sodas are gaining negative attention yet again, and for good reason. A recent study found that consuming a daily can of sugar-free soda is associated with higher risks of suffering a stroke or developing dementia. Heavily sugared drinks already had a bad rap for causing a myriad of health issues such as weight gain, liver damage, kidney stones, diabetes, and heart disease. This study has refreshed the concern for disease risk in those that believe diet soda is a suitable replacement. Researchers found that drinking one diet soda a day is associated with a 2.96 times more likely chance of suffering an ischaemic stroke and a 2.89 times higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s. While it would be irresponsible to imply that artificial sweeteners actually cause stroke or dementia (proving causation is very difficult in health studies) it is important to acknowledge the study’s warning. There is a correlation between artificial sweeteners and the increased risk of dementia and stroke that’s very concerning. It’s certainly an added consideration that keeps me far away from diet sodas.
Sugar-Free Comes at a Cost
Artificial sweeteners have also been associated with health concerns besides stroke and dementia. A 2009 study found that people who consumed diet drinks daily had a 67 percent higher risk for type 2 diabetes and a 36 percent higher risk of metabolic syndrome.
It’s also been found, that artificial sweeteners can dangerously impact your gut microbiome. One study suggests that artificial sweeteners favor bacteria that pull energy from food and convert it into fat. Meaning, If you are consuming zero calorie sweeteners specifically to cut down on weight gain, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Additionally, studies suggest that fake sugar can induce glucose intolerance, which can be a precursor of increased risk for liver and heart disease.
It’s also been shown that artificial sweeteners can have a more potent taste and flood your sugar receptors. Meaning if you are regularly using artificial sweeteners you may find naturally sweet foods less appealing making it more difficult to satisfy your sweet craving. It can also contribute to making bitter foods such as vegetables taste downright disgusting. This can contribute to a vicious cycle of increased sugar intake, which can cause a cascading effect on your overall health.
If you are still using artificial sweeteners, I’m almost begging you to stop using these incredibly harmful substances. I promise there are healthier solutions to getting your sugar fix. I’ll explain which natural sweeteners are best, but first let’s look at some of the worst culprits in fake sugar.
The 6 Worst Artificial Sweeteners
Similar to sugar, your body can actually become addicted to artificial sweeteners, which is why it’s a good idea to go ahead and rid your diet of any of these immediately. Some of the worst artificial sweeteners (and their common names) include:
- Aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal) – Aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar. In a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, researchers called for “a re-evaluation of the current position of international regulatory agencies” with regard to aspartame. This study found that aspartame is a carcinogen and “must be considered an urgent matter of public health.” Yikes!
- Sucralose (Splenda) – Sucralose is about 600 times sweeter than table sugar and is well known for its propensity for being addictive. Multiple statements recently released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest have called for consumers to stop using Splenda pending more research due to the concerns that it may cause cancer.
- Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low) – Saccharin is between 300 to 400 times sweeter than sugar and has no food energy. Many also notice it has a metallic aftertaste. Saccharin used to carry carcinogenic warnings but was delisted in 2000 by the FDA due to a lack of evidence. Though the FDA has no limits on consumption, saccharin is still believed to contribute to health concerns and intake should be limited especially with infants, children, and pregnant women.
- Xylitol (Sorbitol, Maltitol, and other sugar alcohols ending in -itol) – Sugar alcohols aren’t readily absorbed by your body and many find they are sensitive to xylitol. While xylitol is often added to breath mints and gum because it’s known for its ability to kill bad bacteria of the mouth, it’s also known for its gastrointestinal side effects. Gas, bloating, and diarrhea have all been linked to xylitol, which is why I recommend using xylitol in limited quantities. Be especially careful if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding because not enough is known about xylitol. Please note: Xylitol is deadly to dogs, so keep your breath mints and sugar-free gum far away from your pup.
- Acesulfame K (Sunett, Sweet One, ACE, ACE K) – ACE K is commonly found in sugar-free candy and has the fewest scientific studies when compared to other artificial sweeteners. Your body cannot break down ACE K and it may contain methylene chloride, which is known to cause side effects such as nausea, decreased alertness, headaches, irritability, and slow reaction times.
- High fructose corn syrup – Technically, HFCS doesn’t really fall under the “artificial” title because it’s derived from corn. But the corn industry has tried to mislead the public into thinking this makes it a safe, natural alternative to sugar and that’s simply not true. For the sake of calling HFCS exactly what it is – terrible for your health – I’m placing it on this list. HFCS has dangerous levels of fructose and studies have shown that fructose-sweetened beverages increases the risk of metabolic and cardiovascular disorders.
The 9 Best Natural Sweeteners
I want you to be able to occasionally indulge in your sweet-tooth cravings! Every now and then, a sweet treat is in order, so let’s look at the 9 best natural sweeteners you can replace all that artificial garbage with, including:
- Stevia – Stevia is number one on my list for several reasons. It’s been shown to lower blood pressure and even blood sugar levels. Also studies suggest stevia may positively impact diabetes and metabolic disorders. And finally, stevia has antioxidative properties, meaning it helps your body fight the effects of damaging free radicals.
- Erythritol – A sugar alcohol without the digestive issues other sugar alcohols carry.
- Raw honey – High in antioxidants, honey (especially local honey) is a great natural sugar option.
- Palm sugar – Derived from palm sap, this sweetener contains trace amounts of phosphorous, iron, & vitamin C.
- Monk fruit extract – Similar to stevia, monk fruit extract is an extremely potent, zero calorie option.
- Blackstrap molasses – High in B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, iron, and manganese, blackstrap molasses is one of my favorite alternatives, especially in baking.
- Medjool dates – Dates have health benefits such as high minerals and antioxidants but can be more time consuming to use.
- Coconut sugar – This is a good alternative to brown sugar because they are similar in taste.
- Maple syrup – Natural maple syrup is a better option than artificial sweeteners, but lower on my list of replacements.
There are tons of delicious sweet options available to you – so there’s really no need to load your body up with terrible artificial sweeteners that can make you sick. While the natural options are always better, it’s important to watch your overall sugar intake. Remember, high sugar intake has its own issues such as weight gain, kidney stones, liver damage, diabetes, and heart disease. Moderation is key as with most things in life, except for when it comes to artificial sweeteners. I think it’s safe to say ditching chemical sweeteners is best.