I used to be addicted to artificial sweeteners. Lured in by the promise of no sugar and therefore no calories, I was a sucker for everything "sugar free".
On a daily basis, I would often consume several cans of Diet Coke, a tub of artificially flavoured yoghurt, chewing gum and artificially flavoured ice cream (low GI Golden North anyone?) I would use diet drinks as a filler between meals when I was hungry, or would chew gum to fill in time when I was bored and wanted a snack and a sweet pick-me-up. Aside from the disgusting laxative effect overconsumption of this crap can cause, the damage of artificial sweeteners goes way beyond a little stomach upset.
Foods that are sweetened with artificial sweeteners more often than not contain aspartame. This chemical compound has been the subject of hundreds of studies which have denounced it for its poison-like qualities. Scientists have hypothesised that consumption of aspartame may cause or contribute to multiple sclerosis, memory loss, hormonal problems, Alzheimer’s disease, brain lesions, dementia and a host of other nasties. It’s also thought to cause headaches, nausea, fatigue, abdominal pains, sleep problems, anxiety attacks and depression. One chemical element of aspartame frequently found on ingredients lists is phenylalanine. This chemical can be found listed on some very commonly induced foods and drinks such as diet drinks and chewing gum.
Despite the documented dangers of aspartame, the United States Food and Drug Administration (USDA) certified it safe for human consumption in 1974 and it continues to be listed as a safe ingredient. In Australia and New Zealand, aspartame is also permitted at specified levels as an intense sweetener in a range of foods. Despite this supposed ‘legal’ certification, I avoid artificial sweeteners like my life depended on it, because it probably does. Oh, and if this isn't enough, many studies have shown that consumption of artificial sweeteners can actually hinder weight loss, not aid it.
Instead of filling your diet with sweeteners, eat real, whole food. There is absolutely no need to drink diet soft drinks. If you crave the bubbles, drink mineral water flavoured with fresh lime and mint instead. If you absolutely must have a pick-me-up, have an espresso. For your treats, eat the real deal, just in small portions and savour each bite. It is so much more satisfying eating the real thing anyway that chowing down on something fake and full of chemicals.
There is a lot of talk lately also about so called ‘natural’ sweeteners. I’m talking specifically about agave and stevia. Agave is extremely high in fructose and is the product of a factory manufactory process, not a naturally occurring product. The manufacturing process dramatically alters the agave from its natural state as a fruit and results in earning it an extremely high rating on the glycemic index. High consumption of agave is also believed to lead to various health complaints such as fatty liver disease and obesity. As with aspartame and other chemical sweeteners, I avoid agave like the plague. It is simply not healthy for you. Watch out for various foods that claim to be healthy due to the fact that they are sweetened with agave instead of sugar. These products are just as bad.
Stevia has received considerable press recently and is actually considered by many to be a safe and natural sweetener. Stevia is a zero on the glycemic index, zero calories and zero carbohydrates yet it is 25-30 times sweeter than sugar. Some dessert products are now creeping on to our shelves that are sweetened with stevia. It can also be purchased in sachets and in bulk to use in baking or cups of tea. I have less of a problem with stevia but still only use it sparingly. My view is that you can obtain all the sweet flavours you need naturally through fruit and other naturally occurring sweet foods like dates and dried fruit (in moderation). The chocolate truffles in the Recipes section on this site are a great example of a dessert that requires neither sugar nor artificial sweeteners.
Do yourself a favour and rid your body of the chemicals and rubbish contained in artificial sweeteners. Your body, skin and mind will benefit immensely. Fill your plate instead with natural, fresh, whole foods and you will never go hungry again.