Sweeteners: The Good, The Bad, and The Truly Disgusting

Here’s the dirt on artificial sweeteners. Whether we’re talking about forms of aspartame (Equal and Nutrasweet) or saccharin (Sweet ’n Low, Splenda, or sucralose), they are all chemicals, and none of them are good for you.

Aspartame is made up of three components—phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol. According to board-certified internist H.L. Roberts, MD,  when aspartame is exposed to heat (i.e. cases of diet soda sitting in your garage, or in warehouse during the summer), it breaks down into metabolites, the effects of which are basically unknown. Neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, MD goes even further, calling aspartame a “neurotoxin” in his book, Excitotoxins.

Metabolically, excessive amounts of a substance called phenylalanine, found in many artificially flavored foods and drinks, can also greatly affect mood by causing a decrease in the levels of the mood regulator serotonin. As a result, carbohydrate cravings go up and the thought of a successful diet goes out the window.

Some researchers speculate that artificial sweeteners “trick” the brain into thinking something with calories is coming, and when it doesn’t, appetite and cravings get deregulated. This might partially explain why, in a number of studies, there is a positive relationship between the risk for obesity and the consumption of diet soda.

My advice: banish artificial sweeteners from your diet if you possibly can. You could switch to xylitol, (also known as birch sugar) an FDA-approved natural sweetener, which is classified as a sugar alcohol. It has no undesirable side effects, is associated with less cavities, and doesn’t do anything bad to your blood sugar balance (it scores a low 7 on a glycemic index scale of 100, so it’s ideal for people with both diabetes and a sweet tooth). It also doesn’t sabotage your mood and energy levels.

You could also try stevia, a South American herb, (perfectly healthy with a slight licorice aftertaste), erythritol (sold as TruVia) and Lo Han. None of these will raise your blood sugar.

If you don’t have a problem with blood sugar or insulin and are just looking for a healthy alternative to sugar, I’m a big fan of blackstrap molasses, which is a real food with actual nutrients (like iron). And some cold-pressed, raw organic honey is always nice although your body still treats it as a sugar.

Of course, you probably already know what I think of agave syrup. (A hint is in the title of this piece: truly disgusting.) It’s a complete lie that agave syrup is a healthy alternative to anything. It’s nothing more than super-high fructose corn syrup. Unless you’re using just a tiny amount for the sake of a recipe, stay away.

There is no reason to resort to unhealthy, risky artificial sweeteners or garbage versions of sugar, when there are so many better options available. Once you make the switch, you’ll have a hard time tolerating the aftertaste of the artificial, toxic substances.