Are Zero-Calorie Sweeteners Safe?

I often get asked about zero-calorie artificial and natural sweeteners.  Many people view them as a way to kick a sugar craving without breaking the calorie bank, but questions and concerns about their safety abound.  It’s easy to think that artificial sweeteners were designed for those looking to lose weight, but the truth is that they were actually created for an entirely different population – diabetics.  While zero-calorie sweeteners can theoretically help with weight loss due the fact that they’re virtually calorie-free, studies show that people who consume beverages and other foods containing these sweeteners sometimes consume more sugar, and more calories, throughout the day.  Artificial sweeteners can actually increase cravings for sugar (when you consume a food/drink containing these sweeteners, your tongue thinks you’re consuming sugar, but your brain knows you’re not and any cravings it has don’t go away) which in turn can increase sugar consumption.  These sweeteners can also disrupt metabolism, which may affect the way your body burns calories.  The body just wasn’t designed to process anything “artificial;” something similar to a chemistry experiment occurs in your body every time anything artificial is consumed.

That being said, some artificial sweeteners have better safety records than others.  Sucralose, commonly sold as Splenda, has been shown to have the fewest side effects and negative health consequences than its counterparts, so it can technically be considered the “safest” of the bunch.  Other sweeteners, like saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low) and aspartame (Equal) have been shown in studies to have negative health consequences; aspartame is known to be metabolized into formaldehyde, which seems like reason enough to avoid it.  If you’re a diabetic and looking for an alternative to sugar, sucralose is probably your best bet.

Zero-calorie sweeteners that are derived from plants, like stevia (Truvia) and monk fruit extract, have been gaining in popularity due to the fact that they’re considered “natural.”  However, these sweeteners were only recently approved by the FDA, and they’re so new to the market that isn’t enough research out there to prove that they’re safe.  If you’re looking for a more natural way to sweeten your food and beverages, stick to small amounts of sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, molasses, or agave.  Although they do contain calories, they taste sweeter, and keep blood sugar more stable, than regular sugar, so you won’t need to use as much of them to feel satisfied.  And if you’re willing to use it in moderation, real sugar only contains 16 calories per teaspoon, so it can still have a place in a healthy, balanced diet.

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