Have you been tricked by the SUGAR-FREE label?
Consumers are becoming more health-conscious these days and it is normal for one to look for some ‘healthy food labels’ like ‘Sugar-Free’, ‘Fat-Free’, and ‘Low Calories’. You may assume the product is healthier than the others when they claim it ‘Sugar-Free’, but is that so? Very often, artificial sweeteners are hiding behind these labels, with a greater cost on your health. Here are 5 reasons for you to avoid artificial sweeteners:
It may be toxic to the body
Aspartame is an excitotoxin - just like MSG, it may overstimulate the neurons and cause your brain cells to dysfunctional or die. This is why consuming artificial sweeteners at high concentrations in the long term can be toxic - they may cause mild to serious side effects, which range from headaches to life-threatening damages to the brain. Acute toxic potentials include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea while chronic toxic potentials include low birth weight, hepatotoxicity, and thymus shrinkage.
Alter your gut microbiome
Researchers believe that artificial sweeteners could induce a change in our gut microbiota. By altering the composition and function of our gut microbiota, glucose intolerance may result. However, most of these studies are conducted on mice, more studies would be needed to investigate their effects on humans.
Might increase sugar cravings and induce diabetes
Ironic, right? Artificial sweeteners were developed and are marketed as a sugar substitute to help diabetic patients. Using sugar substitute will indeed help to regulate blood sugar levels, but there's always two sides of a coin. Studies suggest that these sweeteners may make us crave more sweet stuff as it prevents us from linking sweetness with calorie intake. Some research papers also concluded excessive consumption of drinks containing artificial sweeteners is associated with a greater likelihood of having Type 2 Diabetes. Besides, when we relate this back to the previous point - artificial sweeteners may cause glucose intolerance, which can then lead to diabetes.
Possible association with obesity
Both animal and human studies suggested that artificial sweeteners can lead to metabolic syndrome and obesity. They can induce weight gain and increase your calorie intake by decreasing your satiety (which means you feel full less easily) and also changing your body’s glucose homeostasis.
May lead to brain and nervous system disorders
Aspartame is thought to be harmful because it can be broken down to produce phenylalanine (an amino acid). People who suffer from phenylketonuria should not consume aspartame because they lack the amount of enzyme needed to break down phenylalanine. Phenylalanine has an important role in regulating neurotransmitters and when it accumulates, it can alter our brain function. Thus, aspartame is not only dangerous to individuals with phenylketonuria. It has been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems as it increases levels of phenylalanine and aspartic acid in our brain, affecting neurophysiological activity.
Where can you find artificial sweeteners?
If you think they are only added to food and beverages - You’re wrong. Aside from their general use in products like soft drinks, baked goods, chewing gum, jellies, and processed fruit juices, artificial sweeteners can also be found in pharmaceuticals, toothpaste, and even cosmetics.
To reduce the risk of you being exposed to the harmful effects of artificial sweeteners, always opt for whole foods instead of ultra-processed foods which tend to contain more artificial additives. Most importantly, look at the ingredient list before purchasing. Recognize the common artificial sweeteners used - Aspartame, Sucralose, Neotame, Saccharin, AcesulfameK, and Advantame. Besides, you may also try out natural sweeteners e.g. Stevia or I would say just cut down your sugar intake – it will anyhow be better than you using artificial sweeteners as a sugar substitute.
Health concerns of artificial sweeteners have always been controversial - Some claim that the studies on artificial sweeteners have limitations and the evidence for health effects are inconclusive. Nevertheless, we have to understand the fact that we should not risk our health when there are better choices to go after!
Written By: Yong Ke Tian
BSc Hons Nutrition
University of Nottingham Malaysia
Reviewed by: Jasmine Lim
Love Earth Organic Nutritionist
Bachelor of Science Degree in
Dietetics (major) & Food Science (minor)
Iowa State University, USA