Why Sugar-Free Is Bad for You

I urge you to avoid artificial sweeteners at all costs . . . ideally, I prefer that you eat the real deal.

When your groceries are labeled “low-fat,” “sugar-free,” and even “natural” and “antibiotic-free,” you might assume that you’re making healthy choices. Yet even some of these seemingly wholesome offerings contain chemical preservatives, pesticides, and artificial flavoring and coloring that negatively affect your health. Certified chef and nutritionist Stefanie Sacks gives you the aisle-by-aisle rundown of how to shop smarter and cook healthier.

Artificial Sweeteners: What They Are and Why They Are “Bad”

According to the Mayo Clinic, artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes whose sweetness comes from chemically manufactured molecules that do not exist in nature. These molecules are manipulated in a lab to give you one of the five zero-calorie-won’t-raise-your-blood-sugar phones that have GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status as per the FDA and are embraced by the food industry and consumers at large.

Since artificial sweeteners are everywhere, I won’t even attempt to list all of the places they live, but let me offer a clue: Anything that says “light,” “low sugar,” “reduced sugar,” “no added sugar,” “zero calories,” or “calorie-free” is probably laden with one or more of the following. You can find them in food and beverages; in the sugar/baking aisle in any grocery store; and let’s not forget the small packets on the tables of coffee shops and eateries to sweeten your tea, cup of joe, or whatever else you fancy.

SACCHARIN (AKA SWEET’N LOW, SWEET TWIN, AND NECTA SWEET) (GRAS)

The sneaky little history of saccharin stinks as far as I’m concerned. As it is the very first superficial sweetener and is now considered one of the most studied additives in your food supply, its journey into and out of and back into your eats is notable.

In 1972 the FDA attempted to ban saccharin. However, Monsanto and the rest of the sugar-free-loving food industry fought hard with “counterevidence” and megamedia campaigns to keep this potentially cancer-causing criminal out of jail. And eventually they won, but foods with this chemical would have to wear a warning label. By 2000, labeling was deemed unnecessary because there was supposedly no longer anything to worry about (despite saccharin’s on-and-off relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency’s “blacklist”). So while saccharin (whether in packets bearing the names Sweet’N Low, Sweet Twin, or Necta Sweet or as a standalone ingredient in processed foods) is widely adored and consumed by millions, questions still remain about its true safety.

ASPARTAME (AKA NUTRASWEET, EQUAL, AND SUGAR TWIN) (GRAS)

In 1981, the FDA approved the use of aspartame in foods meant for dieting, including beverages, drink mixes, and all types of desserts. Although the use of aspartame is widely accepted worldwide, there is much cause for concern.

Independent scientists have been pressured over the years to conduct new animal studies to further investigate the aspartame-cancer connection. In 2005, the Ramazzini Foundation in Bologna, Italy, conducted that first study indicating that rats exposed to aspartame beginning at eight weeks old through their lifetime developed lymphomas, leukemias, and other tumors. In 2007, the same researches published a follow-up study in which they had exposed rats to aspartame in utero. That study, too, found that aspartame caused leukemias and lymphomas as well as mammary (breast) cancer. Then in 2010, they studies mic that had been exposed to aspartame in utero forward; that study found that aspartame caused liver and lung cancer in males.

Basically the FDA and the European Food safety Authority have ignored these findings, nothing that the studies were seriously flawed (including, but not limited to, the varied age o the rats being studied and methodology of data collection). The CSPI and other scientists have found these allegations to be meritless and offer this: “The bottom line is that three independent studies have found that consumption of aspartame causes cancer in rodents. That should be reason enough for the FDA (and other governments) to eliminate aspartame from the food supply. Sadly, aspartame and its use in foods around the world is here to stay (for the moment).

SUCRALOSE (AKA SPLENDA) (GRAS)

From Splenda’s website: “As the legend goes, researches from an established British colelge were trying out a new compounds made from sugar, called sucralose, when a young scientsts misheard a rrequest to test it as an ask to taste it. They discovered it was sweet, but that wasn’t even the best part!@ Sucralose was not only deliviously sweet but aslo calorie-free! And althought it wasn’t sugar, it was still good for cooking and baking. At this moement, a healthier way to sweeten was born.”

So a synthetic sweetener is healthier than the real stuff? The Splenda story continues in that small-town mom-and-pop-discovery tone, so by the end, you actually believe it it is “made from sugar so it tastes like sugar” and all is good. But this is the real story: It’s a synthetic chemical made by reacting sucrose (table sugar) with chlorine (the main ingredient in common household beach). It was discovered by a British-based agribusiness giant Tate & Lyle and researchers at a local university, which subsequently developed a partnership with McNeil Nutritionals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. Doesn’t sound so home-sweet-home now, does it?

NEOTAME (GRAS)

The folks who brought you aspartame (the NutraSweet Company, a division of the biochemical giant Monsanto) introduced chemical creation neotame, which was approved by the FDA and introduced to the U.S> market in 2002 and subsequently to the European Union in 2010. Neotame is the fastest-growing sweetener in the world and it is used in more than 1,000 products world-wide. And what, you may ask, are these products? Carbonated beverages like diet soada, juice drinks like Tampico, protein shakes, protein bars, and even pharmaceuticals.

THE BETTER FOR YOU ALTERNATIVES

I urge you to avoid artificial sweeteners at all costs . . . While I don’t advocate for sugar alcohols or novel sweeteners, they are a better option if consumed in moderation. Ideally, though, I prefer that you eat the real deal.

For those of you who need to mind your blood sugar, turn to the idea of food combining – meaning that if you are going to consume something with sugar, make sure you do so with some fat or protein, as that will slow down sugar metabolism. For example, ditch the sugar-free, fat-free yogurt for the real stuff – plain yogurt with a spot of honey, maple syrup, or even some real-deal fruit jam topped with a small portion of nuts – a more whole and healthy choice.

Excerpted from What the Fork Are You Eating? by Stefanie Sacks. Copyright © 2014 by Stefanie Sacks. Excerpted by permission of Jeremy P. Tarcher, a division of Penguin Group (USA). All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Learn more about creating an Action Plan for Your Pantry and Plate at StefanieSacks.com.


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