By Dr. Mercola
When a new beverage comes out advertising “60% less sugar—drink it to believe it”—the challenge is on. Same taste; fewer calories to your waist? Sounds good, doesn’t it?
But before you throw that Pepsi Next into your grocery cart, Fooducate.comi suggests you complete the challenge by reading the ingredient label.
There you’ll find that, indeed, the sugar content has been reduced.
But it’s still the second ingredient after water—four teaspoons of it, in fact, in the form of high fructose corn syrup. The secret to keeping this beverage sweet-tasting, however, comes further on down, in the form of aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose.
So, really, all that’s changed with this new beverage is that 6 teaspoons of sugar have been substituted with three sweeteners that are even worse. Yes, although I strongly recommend avoiding all soda, you would be far better off with the strictly high fructose corn syrup sweetened version.
Artificial Sweeteners have No Place in a Healthful Diet…
Artificial sweeteners are frequently recommended as a practical way of replacing sugar found in the modern diet. But the research on nonnutritive sweeteners such as these three shows they’re far from healthful alternatives to sugar. (A recent article on HealthyFellow.com lists a few of them as a hand referenceii .First of all, contrary to popular belief, research has shown that artificial sweeteners can:
- Stimulate your appetite
- Increase carbohydrate cravings
- Stimulate fat storage and weight gain. In fact, diet sodas, which are well-known sources of artificial sweeteners, may actually double your risk of obesity!
So much for being a dieter’s best friend… Furthermore, aspartame (rebranded AminoSweet two years ago)—best known under the names of Nutrasweet and Equal—is believed to be carcinogenic and accounts for more reports of adverse reactions than all other foods and food additives combined.
The artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium (Acesulfame-K) has been linked to kidney problems, and sucralose—best known as Splenda—has been found to wreak havoc with the healthful bacteria in your gut… All in all, I believe ALL artificial sweeteners are bad news for your health.
Why Aspartame is FAR Worse than Sugar
While many of the artificial sweeteners have reportedly similar side effects, aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. Many of these reactions are very serious, including seizures and death. About 90 different adverse effects have been linked to aspartame, including:
Headaches/migraines Muscle spasms Tachycardia/heart palpitations Anxiety attacks Dizziness/vertigo Weight gain Insomnia Slurred speech Seizures Rashes Vision problems Loss of taste Nausea Irritability and depression Tinnitus and hearing loss Memory loss Numbness Fatigue Breathing difficulties Joint pain
Recent research also suggests diet sodas may increase stroke risk, and according to researchers and physicians studying the adverse effects of aspartame, the following chronic illnesses can be triggered or worsened by ingesting of aspartame:
Brain tumors Multiple sclerosis Epilepsy Chronic fatigue syndrome Parkinson’s disease Alzheimer’s disease Mental retardation Lymphoma Fibromyalgia Diabetes
Aspartame—”A Chemical Poison”?
The book “Prescription for Nutritional Healing” by James and Phyllis Balch lists aspartame under the category of “chemical poison.” While many still refuse to believe that toxic or otherwise health-harming ingredients would be allowed to be used in food manufacturing, the evidence against aspartame and other artificial sweeteners is, in my opinion, overwhelming…
Aspartame is made up of three chemicals:
- Phenylalanine (50 percent)—Phenylalanine is an amino acid normally found in your brain. Persons with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) cannot metabolize phenylalanine and must avoid it at all costs to prevent the accumulation of phenylalanine in their brain, which can be lethal. It has been shown that ingesting aspartame, especially along with carbohydrates, can lead to excess levels of phenylalanine in the brain even in persons who do not have PKU. Excessive levels of phenylalanine in your brain can decrease your serotonin levels, which in turn can provoke emotional disorders such as depression.
- Aspartic acid (40 percent)—According to the work of Dr. Russell L. Blaylock, a professor of neurosurgery at the Medical University of Mississippi, there are about 500 scientific references showing that excess free excitatory amino acids such as aspartic acid and glutamic acid (about 99 percent of monosodium glutamate (MSG) is glutamic acid) in our food supply are causing serious chronic neurological disorders and a myriad of other acute symptoms.
Aspartate and glutamate act as neurotransmitters in your brain by facilitating the transmission of information from neuron to neuron. Excess aspartate or glutamate in your brain can kill off neurons by allowing the influx of too much calcium into your cells. This influx triggers excessive amounts of free radicals, which kill the cells. The neural cell damage that can be caused by excessive aspartate and glutamate is why they are referred to as “excitotoxins.” They literally “excite” or stimulate your neural cells to death. It is important not to confuse this with the amino acid glutamic acid, which is a normal part of foods and an important nutrient.
- Methanol (10 percent)—Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is a deadly poison. It is gradually released in your small intestine once the methyl group of aspartame encounters the digestive enzyme chymotrypsin. Inside your body, methanol breaks down into formic acid and formaldehyde, the latter of which is another lethal neurotoxin and a known carcinogen, which passes freely through your blood brain barrier to cause brain damage.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), methanol is considered “a cumulative poison due to the low rate of excretion once it is absorbed. In the body, methanol is oxidized to formaldehyde and formic acid; both of these metabolites are toxic.” The EPA recommends limiting consumption of methanol to 7.8 mg/day. A one-liter (approx. 1 quart) aspartame-sweetened beverage contains about 56 mg of methanol. Heavy users of aspartame-containing products can consume as much as 250 mg of methanol daily, or 32 times the EPA limit. Signs and symptoms of methanol poisoning include:
Headaches Tinnitus Dizziness / vertigo Nausea Gastrointestinal disturbances Weakness Chills Memory lapses Numbness Behavioral disturbances Neuritis Vision problems: misty/blurry vision, contraction of visual field Retinal damage Blindness Shooting pain in extremities (arms and legs)
Do Your Own Research, and Know what Side Effects to Look for…
Those who defend aspartame argue that phenylalanine and aspartic acid are a harmless and natural part of your diet. Indeed, both of these amino acids can be found in most of the protein foods you eat. However, phenylalanine and aspartic acid can only be considered natural and harmless when they are consumed in combination with other amino acids in the correct ratios—NOT when consumed as isolated amino acids… When they’re consumed as free amino acids not part of food, they enter your central nervous system in abnormally high concentrations that can cause your neurons to fire excessively, and potentially lead to cell death as explained above.
Unfortunately, adverse effects are severely under-reported, which makes it far more difficult to get dangerous ingredients like aspartame off the market. When it comes to side effects from drugs and vaccines, a mere 1 to 4 percent of all adverse events are ever reported, which leads me to believe that adverse reactions from other FDA-regulated products, such as aspartame, is likely even lower…
It’s important to realize that in order to truly alert the FDA to a problem with a product they’ve approved, they must be notified by as many people who experience a problem as possible. I strongly recommend learning everything you can about the potential side effects of artificial sweeteners and keep a watchful eye out for adverse signs and symptoms (if you consume them). And if you experience side effects from aspartame or any other artificial sweetener, report it to the FDA.
The FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator page lists the phone number for each state where you can report adverse reactions to any FDA-regulated product.
The following video will familiarize you with some of the side-effects you could encounter if you consume products containing this artificial sweetener. For more in-depth information about the chemical makeup of aspartame and its adverse health effects, please see this previous special report on aspartame. I also highly recommend Cori Brackett’s documentary film Sweet Misery.
How Sucralose Can Decimate Your Health
Sucralose (Splenda) is associated with many of the same adverse effects as aspartame, including:
Respiratory difficulties Migraines/headaches Seizures Gastrointestinal problems Heart palpitations Weight gain
This site also contains a long list of personal testimonials from readers who have suffered side effects from Splenda. In fact, we have more people on our site that have reported adverse reactions to Splenda than were formally studied in the research submitted for FDA approval! Additionally, and most notably, research published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health in 2008iii found that Splenda:
- reduces the amount of good bacteria in your intestines by 50 percent
- increases the pH level in your intestines
- affects a glycoprotein in your body that can have crucial health effects, particularly if you’re on certain medications as it can cause the rejection of drugs such as chemotherapy, AIDS treatments, and treatments for heart conditions
- is absorbed by fat (contrary to previous claims)
It’s really a toss-up as to which artificial sweetener might be better or worse than the other, but the fact that sucralose can destroy up to HALF of your beneficial gut flora is truly alarming, as these bacteria are a vital part of your immune system and help support your general health—both physical and mental. Many people are already deficient in healthy bacteria due to excessive consumption of highly processed foods (which is why a high quality probiotic is one of the few supplements I recommend for nearly everyone), so just imagine the overall harm that can be inflicted by consuming an artificial sweetener that decimates your gut flora at such a high rate!
Are Your Health Problems Related to Artificial Sweeteners?
Many people belatedly realize they’ve been suffering reactions to one artificial sweetener or another. If you suspect an artificial sweetener might be to blame for a symptom you’re having, a good way to help you weed out the culprit is to do an elimination challenge. It’s easy to do, but you must read the ingredient labels for everything you put in your mouth to make sure you’re avoiding ALL artificial sweeteners.
To determine if you’re having a reaction to artificial sweeteners, take the following steps:
- Eliminate all artificial sweeteners from your diet for two weeks.
- After two weeks of being artificial sweetener-free, reintroduce your artificial sweetener of choice in a significant quantity (about three servings daily). Avoid other artificial sweeteners during this period.
- Do this for one to three days and notice how you feel, especially as compared to when you were consuming no artificial sweeteners.
- If you don’t notice a difference in how you feel after re-introducing your primary artificial sweetener for a few days, it’s a safe bet you’re able to tolerate it acutely, meaning your body doesn’t have an immediate, adverse response. However, this doesn’t mean your health won’t be damaged in the long run.
- If you’ve been consuming more than one type of artificial sweetener, you can repeat steps 2 through 4 with the next one on your list.
Let me make it abundantly clear that even though you may not show immediate signs of any noticeable reaction after consuming artificial sweeteners, please don’t make the mistake of telling yourself “they must be OK for me”. I strongly urge you to avoid them at all costs. They are toxic to all humans and will not help you in any way shape or form. If you would like to sweeten your food or beverages please use a natural artificial sweetener like stevia, Lo Han or xylitol.
Are there ANY Healthy Alternatives to Sugar?
There is enough evidence showing the dangers of consuming artificial sweeteners to fill an entire book — which is exactly why I wrote Sweet Deception. If you or your loved ones drink diet beverages or eat diet foods, this book will explain how you’ve been deceived about the truth behind artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose — for greed, for profits … at the expense of your health.
While excessive sugar consumption (primarily in the form of high fructose corn syrup, which is added to virtually all processed foods these days) is at the root of our skyrocketing obesity and chronic disease rates, swapping sugar/fructose for non-caloric artificial sweeteners is clearly NOT the answer…
So what other alternatives are there? And are any of them safer than sugar/fructose or artificial sweeteners?
One of the best alternatives is stevia; a highly sweet herb derived from the leaf of the South American stevia plant. It is completely safe in its natural form and can be used to sweeten most dishes and drinks. Keep in mind though that if you have insulin issues, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or if you’re overweight, you’d be best to avoid all sweeteners, including stevia, since any sweetener can decrease your insulin sensitivity. Also avoid stevia-based sweeteners like Truvia and PureVia as they’ve been highly processed and contain only the active ingredient in the stevia plant, which may have unforeseen biochemical ramifications.
Lo han (or luo han guo) is another natural sweetener similar to Stevia. It’s an African sweet herb that can also be used, but it’s a bit more expensive and harder to find.
I do not recommend using agave syrup. This sweetener, which is falsely advertised as “natural,” is typically HIGHLY processed and is usually 80 percent fructose. Likewise, honey is also very high in fructose (about 53 percent fructose), but contrary to agave it is completely natural in its raw form, and has many health benefits when used in moderation.
Another safer alternative to sugar is to use pure glucose. You can buy pure glucose (dextrose) as a sweetener for about $1 a pound. It is only 70 percent as sweet as sucrose, so you’ll end up using a bit more of it for the same amount of sweetness, making it slightly more expensive than sucrose—but still well worth it for your health as it does not contain any fructose whatsoever. Glucose can be used directly by every cell in your body and as such is far safer than the metabolic poison fructose.
Remember, if you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or extra weight, then you have insulin sensitivity issues and would benefit from avoiding ALL sweeteners. But for everyone else, if you are going to sweeten your foods and beverages anyway, I strongly encourage you to consider using regular Stevia, Lo han, or dextrose (pure glucose), and toss out ALL artificial sweeteners and any products that contain them.
If you’re having trouble weaning yourself off soda, try Turbo Tapping. Turbo Tapping is a clever use of the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), specifically designed to resolve many aspects of an addiction in a concentrated period of time.
- i Fooducate.com Blog April 4, 2012
- ii Healthyfellow.com April 13, 2012
- iii Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Part A 2008;71(21):1415-29