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Artificial Sweeteners - How Bad Are They Really?

Updated on July 1, 2014

Artificial Sweeteners: Friend of Foe?

Artificial sweeteners come in many brands and varieties. Are they actually ok for people to eat?
Artificial sweeteners come in many brands and varieties. Are they actually ok for people to eat?

Why Use Artificial Sweetener?

Many people opt to use artificial sweeteners, AKA sugar substitutes, instead of sugar. Here are some of the most common reasons provided for this decision:

  • No calories
  • Lower on the glycemic index
  • Non-fattening
  • Sweeter than sugar so less needed

But did you know that there are some sugar substitutes that are not artificial? Indeed there are. Read on.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Do they really protect our health?
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Do they really protect our health?

Are Artificial Sweeteners Regulated?

Artificial sweeteners are indeed regulated by the federal government; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Does this mean they're safe? Many people assume so, thinking that our government should be doing what is needed to keep us safe. But that isn't always the case.

If you do a little bit of research online, you can find cases of politics at work. Sometimes big manufacturers influence FDA decisions. In fact, in the mid-80s, the FDA deemed Stevia as "unsafe" at the urging of sugar producers. Why? Because if this all natural sweetener, derived from a plant, was to become popular, their sugar sales might decrease. Read more about the FDA fiasco here.

What Are Some Common Arificial Sweeteners?

Here are some names that you might be familiar with. These are all artificial sweeteners. Take note of the word "artificial." Do you really want to ingest artificial food?

  • saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet'N Low)
  • sucralose (Splenda)
  • aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
  • D-Tagatose (Sugaree)
  • acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)
  • neotame
  • cyclamate (not yet approved in the U.S.)

Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?

The debate about whether or not artificial sweeteners are safe, has been raging for years. The manufacturers will tell you they are safe. Any many of the reported side-effects have not been verified in laboratory tests. Does this mean the side-effects are not valid?

If you ingest an artificial sweetener, and you get a headache or diarrhea, but there's no "study" that says these are true side-effects, does that mean that you didn't actually experience a headache or diarrhea? Of course not. Does it mean that the artificial sweetener didn't cause the headache or diarrhea? No to that one too.

And that is how the controversy continues. If you are in touch with your body, and pay attention to what you eat and the reactions you experience, you should be able to answer this question for yourself, without input from outside sources.

There are many reported side-effects from the various artificial sweeteners. Just like anything, no one food or chemical causes the same reaction in everyone. While one person is allergic to eggs, the next person isn't. Or if two people come into contact with the same plant, one may produce a rash, and the other person doesn't. The same is true for some chemicals. One person may ingest Splenda, for example, and begin getting headaches. The next person may get stomach cramps. The next person may not experience any immediate side-effects.

The truth is, is that artificial sweeteners can claim zero calories because their molecules have been modified to such a degree, that our bodies cannot recognize them as any natural food. The process by which these sweeteners are made, twists and changes the original molecules to such an extent, that many of them may end up with toxic side-effects.

Side-Effects of Artificial Sweeteners

If you search online, you will find SO MANY articles written about side effects reported from people who ingested artificial sweeteners. There is way too much information for me to include it all here. So I urge you to do a Google search on "artificial sweeteners side effects" and start reading.

Here are a few articles that I found most enlightening, which I recommend reading:

And this is a GREAT website to see a list of many of the side-effects. Click here to view (

What Foods and Beverages Contain Artifical Sweeteners?

As you look on the shelves of your grocery store, take note of how many food and drink items contain the words "SUGAR FREE" or "DIET." There's a 99% chance that if the food item says "Sugar Free" or "Diet," it contains artificial sweeteners. This includes sodas, chewing gum, desserts,

Are There Any Safe Sugar Substitutes?

Luckily, there are several safe sugar substitutes, which are not chemically produced "artificial sweeteners." Here are some of the most common ones.

Agave Nectar (pronounced ah-GAH-vay)

  • derived from the agave plant (succulant plant resembling cactus)
  • 1.5 times sweeter than sugar
  • about the consistency of honey, a little thinner
  • comes in dark and light varieties
  • taste is similar to honey, but milder
  • great sweetener for drinks such as coffee, tea, lemonade
  • no aftertaste
  • available at most health food stores, and now some local grocery stores

Stevia (Truvia)

  • derived from a sweet plant "kaa he-he" now known as the stevia shrub
  • the shrub grows wild in certain areas of Brazil and Paraguay
  • can be purchased in liquid or powder form
  • 10-15 times sweeter than sugar
  • has a definite taste, so not suitable for all uses (for example, I prefer agave nectar in lemonade)
  • used as a sweetener by area natives since before 1887
  • can be used in cooking and baking
  • low glycemic index
  • does not cause tooth decay
  • virtually no calories
  • does have a slight bitter aftertaste
  • available at most health food stores, and now some local grocery stores
  • Read more here


  • just as sweet as sugar
  • 40% fewer calories than sugar
  • 75% fewer carbohydrates than sugar
  • lower glycemic index than sugar
  • can be used in cooking and baking
  • Read more here

With so many options for sugar substitutes that are not artificial, why would you choose artificial? Why take a risk with your health?

Gum without Sugar and Without Artificial Sweeteners

Yes! You heard right! There is a gum without sugar and without artificial sweeteners. Unfortunately, it is probably not available at your local grocery or convenience store.

Spry chewing gum is my personal favorite gum, sweetened with Xylitol. I have tried most of the flavors and my favorites are the Spearmint and Fresh Fruit, though the flavor in the fresh fruit doesn't last as long as the Peppermint or Spearmint. It appears that most people's favorite is Peppermint.

There is no funky aftertaste with these, and they are chiclet style, which I love. You can get them in individual packets (but they cost more that way) or in bulk.

I'm sure there are other brands, just do a search on "chewing gum xylitol" to find some others. This is the only one I've tried.

The reason I included this write-up in this article is because I was SO THRILLED to find a chewing gum without aspartame and without sugar, and it tasted good. So I just wanted to share it.

A Few Simple Recipes with Agave Nectar

Lemonade Recipe

  • 1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
  • 1/3 Cup Agave Nectar
  • 3 Cups Water

Mix, pour over ice and serve. Yummy!!

Sweet Lemon or Lime Custard

  • 1 Ripe Avocado
  • 1/8 C. Agave Nectar
  • 1/8 C. Lemon or Lime Juice

Puree all items in a food processor. Spoon over a graham cracker. Tastes like lemon or lime pie! So yummy!!

Simple Marinara Sauce

  • 1 can Tomato Sauce
  • 1 TBS Agave Nectar
  • dash of salt
  • 2 TBS Basil
  • 1 TBS Garlic Powder (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Heat over low heat until warm. Serve over pasta.


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