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4 Myths About Artificial Sweeteners

May 15 2021
5 min read
woman dropping star cube into coffee

Artificial sweeteners have skyrocketed in popularity over the past few decades.

It’s hard to go anywhere and not find a rainbow’s worth of those little packets nearby (or someone who doesn’t have one stowed in her purse). And though there always seems to be one that is more popular than another, the ubiquity of these additives has made many of us forget to question how they might be affecting our health.
Common and often easily accepted myths about artificial sweeteners and the foods and drinks that contain them perpetuate this as well:

Myth #1: My Body Can Effectively Get Rid of the Chemicals in Sweeteners

This is only somewhat true. Your body’s amazing detox capabilities do have their limits. Consuming artificial sweeteners regularly can burden your system with chemicals that your liver has to detoxify. Interestingly, saccharin ends up in your bladder in the same form, since your body doesn’t have a detox pathway for it at all. (This is concerning, since bladder cancer is the most significant observation in animal research on this sweetener.) In addition, the components of aspartame pass into the brain because they also naturally occur in food – but the concentration in sweeteners is many times higher.

Myth #2: Non-caloric Sweeteners Derived From Stevia Are the Best Choices

This is an important one to understand. Stevia is an herb harvested from the leaf or root of the yerba dulce (stevia) shrub, which has been used for eons and grows in South America and Southeast Asia. But raw stevia is not the same as new stevia-based products. The latter are often bleached, and include fillers blended with a heavily processed, highly altered version of stevia. As such, the closest you can come to natural, pure stevia is the healthiest option. Look for a version with the fewest ingredients possible. It works well in warm liquids and baking; you may find finely ground versions best for dissolving in cold drinks.

Myth #3: Diet Sodas Are Better for Me Than Regular Ones

While you can save about 100 calories per serving and reduce your sugar intake by picking diet versions, they offer no nutritional value. Furthermore, a study in the journal Physiology & Behavior found that habitual diet soda sippers have more widespread activity in the reward processing regions of the brain when they consume other sweet foods and drinks than those who don’t regularly opt for these beverages. That means they’re more likely to overindulge in treats when they have them, which can pose a threat to maintaining a healthy weight. Try giving up chemical-filled diet beverages of all kinds for healthier options, like natural fruit-flavored seltzers, antioxidant-rich teas, or plain old water, which can bring your body far better hydration and other benefits. You may have heard about a study showing that diet soda helps people lose weight better than water, but keep in mind – that research was funded by the American Beverage Association.

Myth #4: If Cookies Are Made With Artificial Sweeteners, I Can Eat More of Them

It’s important to remember that sugar is only one caloric component of baked goods. Flour, oils, nuts, and other ingredients can add up, too. And when sugar is removed, fat is often added to improve the final product’s taste. Some packaged cookie manufacturers also use sorbitol to sweeten sugar-free cookies; consuming too much of this natural sugar alcohol – found in blackberries, nectarines, apples, and other fruits – can cause gas, cramps, or other digestive distress.

From the Canyon Ranch Nutritionists

We recommend eliminating artificial sweeteners from your diet in favor of small amounts of natural sweeteners like honey, molasses, and even a bit of real sugar in occasional treats. Many Canyon Ranch Dessert Recipes use cane or brown sugar, for example. However, like anything regarding your diet, you need to make the decisions you feel are best for you. If you are someone who can’t imagine life without artificial sweeteners, you may consider trying to slowly reduce your intake to give your palate time to adjust. With time, you may not miss them as much as you thought you might.