I love sugar and sweets BUT sugar is so unhealthy. But what about zero calorie sweeteners? Are they just as unhealthy? Am I better off just eating sugar? Don’t artificial sweeteners cause cancer? Let’s discuss…
Sugar, sweets, deserts, donuts, chocolate… We all know eating too many sweets can cause obesity, type 2 diabetes, and many other preventable chronic diseases. Refined sugar is in just about everything we eat, from our coffee in the morning to bread to spaghetti sauce, and everywhere in between. In an effort to reduce sugar consumption, many turn to artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes. These additives are generally recognized as safe according to the FDA. So I’m going to give you my 3 best and 3 worst zero calorie sweeteners based on health and taste. I’ll start with the 3 worst:
- The absolute worst in my opinion is saccharin. Saccharin is one of the oldest artificial sweeteners on the market. In fact, it has been used to sweeten foods and drinks for over 100 years. However, it wasn’t until the ’60s and ’70s that it became popular as a sugar replacement. Saccharin is made in a laboratory by oxidizing the chemicals o-toluene sulfonamide or phthalic anhydride. It's always a bad sign when you can't even pronounce the ingredients. Our bodies can’t break down saccharin so it leaves your body unchanged, making this a zero calorie sweetener. Even though it's 700 times sweeter than sugar, it has a very bitter aftertaste, making saccharin my #1 worst zero calorie sweetener. Also it was banned in the 1970s when several studies linked saccharin to bladder cancer in rats. Further research discovered the cancer development in rats was not relevant to humans. Due to the lack of solid evidence linking saccharin to cancer development, its classification was changed. However, many experts feel observational studies are not enough to rule out cancer risk and still recommend that people avoid saccharin.
- Number 2 of my 3 worst zero calorie sweeteners is aspartame. Aspartame is made by combining 2 amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar and doesn’t have as bitter of an aftertaste. When your body digests aspartame, it is broken down into aspartic acid and phenylalanine and methanol. Methanol also occurs naturally in small amounts from fruit consumption and some vegetables. However as of 2014 aspartame was the largest source of methanol in the American diet. Methanol is toxic in large quantities, and even smaller amounts may be a problem when combined with free methanol. Free methanol is present in some foods and is also created when aspartame is heated. Free methanol may be a problem because it breaks down into formaldehyde, a known carcinogen and neurotoxin. Proponents of aspartame point out the maximum intake level of methanol is not reached by normal or even high consumption of aspartame. The US FDA, World Health Organization, American Heart Association and others all approve aspartame, even though there are some studies showing a link between aspartame and cancer. Admittedly there are conflicting research results. Even the American Cancer Society approves of aspartame noting there is not enough evidence to show that it causes cancer. Aspartame has also been implicated in seizures, headaches, depression, ADHD, dizziness, birth defects, lupus, Alzheimers, Multiple Sclerosis, and others – BUT currently there is still inconsistent outcomes in studies. So… personally I remain skeptical and aspartame remains my second worst zero calorie sweetener.
- The 3rd on my list is sucralose. Sucralose is made from sugar in a multi-step chemical process where 3 hydrogen-oxygen groups are replaced with chlorine atoms. It was discovered in 1976 when a scientist at a British college allegedly misheard instructions about TESTING a substance. Instead, he TASTED it, realizing that it was highly sweet. Sucralose is 400-700 times sweeter than sugar and has no bitter aftertaste. Health authorities like the FDA consider it to be safe, but studies have raised questions about its health effects. Sucralose may have negative effects on gut health, immune function and metabolism. The long term health effects of consuming sucralose are unclear, raising enough doubt in my mind to make sucralose the #3 worst zero calorie sweetener.
All right, now for the 3 best zero calorie sweeteners. I’ll start with my 3rd favorite and work my way up to my #1 choice for best zero calorie sweeteners.
3. Number 3 on my Best list is Erythritol. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, like Xylitol and Mannitol. They are called sugar “alcohols” because their chemical structure resembles sugar AND alcohol, but they do not contain alcohol. Since they are similar to sugar they can activate the sweet receptors on your tongue. However they are not efficiently absorbed and therefore contain fewer calories than sugar. Xylitol and Mannitol have some calories AND wreak havoc on your digestive tract, so they are not on my list. Erythritol contains .24 calories per gram, making it effectively a zero calorie sweetener. Your body does not have the enzymes to break down the majority of erythritol, so most of it is absorbed directly into your bloodstream and excreted in your urine unchanged. And it is very easy on the digestive tract making Erythritol my #3 choice in Zero Calorie Sweeteners.
2. Number 2 on my list is Monk Fruit. Monk fruit sweetener is extracted from monk fruit, a small round fruit grown in Southeast Asia. This natural sweetener contains zero calories and is 100–250 times sweeter than sugar. Monk fruit gets its sweetness from antioxidants called mogrosides. Mogrosides provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Animal and test-tube studies have shown that monk fruit can inhibit cancer growth. So instead of accusations of causing health problems, monk fruit is accused of having health benefits. That plus having excellent taste reviews online make Monk Fruit my #2 best zero calorie sweetener. To be honest, I have not tried a pure monk fruit sweetener myself. I have used a monk fruit and stevia blend which was really good, bringing us to…
1. Stevia. My #1 pick for zero calorie sweeteners is stevia. Stevia is a natural sweetener that is extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant, native to South America. Stevia is 100% natural, contains zero calories, and has no known adverse health effects. The sweetness in Stevia comes from 2 chemicals: stevosides and rebaudiosides. Both are 200 times sweeter than table sugar but stevoside has a bitter aftertaste, where rebaudioside A does not. So to avoid the bitter aftertaste look for stevia extract containing “rebaudioside A.” Now stevia has had its own issues with the FDA – in 1991 stevia was banned in the U.S. due to early studies that suggested it may cause cancer. A follow-up study refuted the initial study and in 1995, the FDA allowed stevia to be sold as a food supplement, then in 2008 as a sweetener. So… due to its current status as 100% natural with no known adverse health effects, and frankly being widely promoted and available as a safe sugar alternative, stevia gets my vote for #1 zero calorie sweetener. However I reserve the right to change my mind after I order some monk fruit sweetener and compare them side by side. …I may have to make a follow up video some time down the road, we’ll see.
Okay that’s it for this week’s article. Thanks for joining me. Don’t forget to pick up my calorie calculator combo, the ultimate free tools to help you succeed on your fitness journey, just visit the link below. That’s all for now, God bless you, and I’ll see you next time.
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