Sweetener Confusion


Word cloud for Aspartame

Have you ever felt baffled about all the sweeteners that are out there, particularly ‘artificial’ ones?  I sure have!  There’s so much hype in advertising, so much conflicting information in the media, and there are so many names for each of the sweeteners– who can keep it all straight? Well, I decided to dig into some research, find some answers and get some details straight!  It’s such a big subject – there are many books dedicated to this, so I have narrowed this article down to the 3 most common artificial sweeteners. So, here are some important facts!

First of all – the term ‘artificial sweetener’ means that it is a sweetener that has been produced in a laboratory, and is not found in nature.  The sweeteners that are produced by nature (honey, maple syrup, the sugar that is naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables) and used in their natural state do not generally contain man made chemicals.

Sucralose:  5 facts –

  1. Sweetness: Sucralose is one of the most popular artificial sweeteners (found in over 4,000 refined products) and it is 600 times sweeter than sugar –  a little goes a long way.
  2. Commercial names: The word ‘sucralose’ is very often interchanged with the brand name ‘Splenda’, although the two are not identical.  Sucralose is actually an ingredient in Splenda, along with dextrose and maltodextrin (carbohydrates that increase Splenda’s bulk).
  3. Effect on the body: Sucralose by itself does not spike a person’s blood sugar. However, maltodextrin and dextrose are sugars which can spike blood sugar, causing excess insulin production.
  4. Red flags / dangers: Typical marketing tells us that sucralose is made from sugar, which leads us to believe that it is perfectly safe.  How bad can it be, right? Well… the truth is that sucralose starts out as sugar, but the end product is incredibly far removed from its origin. Sucralose is made by treating sugar with a huge number of chemicals, including chlorine. Chlorine is considered a carcinogen (cancer causing) and has been used in disinfectants, poisonous gas, plastics and pesticides.  There is a controversy about safety because no long term studies have been done on humans (only short term studies have been done on animals).
  5. History of side effects: People have reported many side-effects from using sucralose and/or Splenda: digestive issues, headaches – including migraines, anxiety, depression, skin rashes and even dementia.

Saccharin: 5 facts –

  1. Sweetness: Saccharin has been around for decades (it was the first widely available chemical sweetener) and it is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar, with a bitter aftertaste.
  2. Commercial names: It is known as Sweet and Low, Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin and Necta Sweet. Saccharin is used in many processed food products, in some vitamins, cosmetic products and pharmaceuticals.
  3. Effect on the body: It does not spike a person’s blood sugar, or cause excess insulin production.
  4. Red flags / dangers:It is considered by the FDA to be safe in small amounts, even though there have been many controversial attempts to ban it from food over the years.  Since saccharin belongs to a group of compounds called sulfonamides there is concern about allergic reaction to it, particularly in people who are allergic to sulfa drugs. Many researchers still believe that saccharin could be carcinogenic when used in large quantities.
  5. History of side effects:  Allergic reactions to saccharin can include breathing difficulties, skin rashes, diarrhea, and headaches.

Aspartame: 5 facts –

  1. Sweetness:  Aspartame is 160 to 220 times sweeter than sugar, has calories, but is low calorie when used in small amounts.
  2. Commercial names: Aspartame is marketed as Equal, Nutrasweet and Spoonful
  3. Effect on the body: Aspartame does get metabolized in the body, which means it is not excreted in the same form it was in at the time it was consumed.  This is the reason it should not be consumed by people with PKU – a metabolism disorder.
  4. Red flags / dangers: There has been a huge amount of controversy surrounding the approval of aspartame.  One example is that all of the research done by the manufacturer of aspartame confirmed that aspartame is safe; 92% of the independently funded research on aspartame found problems with safe consumption of aspartame.  When aspartame is digested it releases a type of excitatory amino acid called aspartate that crosses the blood-brain barrier. It is very easy for the brain to get a toxic overdose of this amino acid.  In babies and young children: the majority of brain development occurs from 0 to 7 years of age, and during this time young children are at particular risk of brain damage from aspartame.  Recent studies have also shown that aspartame can also cause an accumulation of formaldehyde in the brain.  This can damage the immune system and the central nervous system, as well as cause genetic trauma.
  5. History of side effects: There has been evidence that shows a number of negative symptoms from aspartame such as headaches, depression, dizziness, panic attacks, irritability, nausea – to name a few. Aspartame has also been linked to MS, lupus, fibromyalgia, neurological disorders and cancer.

More facts about the effect on the body

Artificial sweeteners, by design, do not elevate a person’s blood sugar and therefore do not stimulate excess insulin production in the body.  However, they can still cause a reaction in the brain, which can stimulate the body to produce insulin. Some artificial sweeteners have also been known to be brain toxins, as noted above.

Excess use of artificial sweeteners keeps our tastes trained to excessive sweetness, so we always want (crave) very sweet foods.  When we get rid of our ‘sweets craving’ we find that we can be satisfied with the moderate natural sweetness found in fruit and vegetables.

Dissolve the confusion and summarize the facts

  1. Sweetness: these chemical artificial sweeteners are hundreds of time sweeter than sugar (anywhere from 160 to 700 times). We tend to think that using a little here or there cannot possibly be harmful – but keep in mind the amounts we may be using add up within our body, and can still be harmful, keep our tastes trained for sweetness, and cause our brain to stimulate the release of insulin.
  2. Commercial names: there are a number of commercial names used for these sweeteners, so people need to be diligently reading food labels to know what they are consuming.
  1. Effect on the body: marketing can easily lead us to believe that there is no effect on our body from using artificial sweeteners.  The truth is: the effects are very real, and different for each sweetener, and there are medical concerns about these sweeteners
  2. Red flags / dangers: there are many possible dangers in using artiicial sweeteners, and they vary depending on the individual sweetener. The simplest and easiest way to avoid the dangers of artificial sweeteners is: do not use them!
  3. History of side effects:  there are a huge array of negative side effects from artificial sweeteners. The simplest way to avoid negative side effects of artificial sweeteners: do not use them!

Are you looking for good alternative sweeteners to sugar and artificial sweeteners? Are you wanting to stop using artificial sweeteners, but don’t know what to use instead?  Are you diabetic or pre-diabetic and need some guidance about sweeteners that won’t cause blood sugar spikes or negative side effects?  If you answered YES to any of these questions – I can help!  Contact me.


Informational Resources:

WomenToWomen.com on Sugar Substitutes & Splenda

MedicineNet on Artificial Sweeteners

Dr. Mercola on Sucralose (Splenda)

Maltodextrin – Bob’s Red Mill

Dr. Thomas S. Lee – about Aspartame

Dr. Janet Hull – about Splenda


Copyright © 2013 Cathy Ormon – All Rights Reserved