Artificial Sweeteners: Why You Should Completely Avoid Them to Stay Healthy

As the U.S. currently has an inadequate and deceptive labeling system, which fails in implicating the total health risks associated with certain foods and ingredients in foods, I decided to create a list of foods to avoid at all costs.

(This will be part of an on-going series to help better educate readers about the foods they should and should not be eating. To read the first article on high fructose corn syrup, see here): 

Most artificial sweeteners and most foods that contain artificial sweeteners as ingredients.

Artificial sweeteners are used in many different food items across the U.S. as a means of replacing sugar. There are a plethora of these aritifical sweeteners, which include: acesulfame potassium (also identified as acesulfame k and ACE), alitame, aspartame, aspartame-acesulfame salt, corn syrup (also identified as corn sweetener and corn syrup solids), cyclamate, high fructose corn syrup (also identified as: corn sugar, corn sweetener, glucose-fructose syrup, HCFS-42, HCFS-55, HCFS-90, isoglucose), hydrogenated starch hydrosylate, neohesperidine dihydrochalcone (also identified as neohesperidine dc), neotame, saccharin, sucralose, and sugar alcohols (which include: erythritol, glucitol/sorbitol, glycerol/glycerin, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol). Artificial sweeteners possess some positive characteristics. They are very low calorie-wise and much less is needed than conventional sugar due to the higher concentration of sweetness. Also, artificial sweeteners may prove to be an alternative to sugar for diabetics. Finally, unlike regular sugar, artificial sweeteners do not lead to dental cavities. However, despite the benefits, some of these artificial sweeteners are damaging to one's body.

Below is a guide to these sugar substitutes: 

Acesulfame potassium is a zero-calorie sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is derived from acetoacetic acid and fluorosulfonyl isocyanate. Acesulfame potassium works in the body by stimulating the secretion of insulin in a way that may lead to reactive hypoglycemia. While the FDA approved of its use and consumption by American citizens, the Center for Science in the Public Interest believes further research should be conducted to ensure that it is safe to eat. The CSPI thinks that acesulfame potassium may be carcinogenic due to experimentation of the substance on lab rats.  Additionally, in lab rodents, acesulfame potassium has produced lung, breast and rare organ tumors, various forms of leukemia, and chronic respiratory diseases. Due to the fact that the substance acesulfame potassium contains methylene chloride, long-term exposure may lead to a number of issues for people consuming it, including headaches, visual disturbances, mental confusion, nausea, depression, effects on the liver and kidneys.       

How to avoid acesulfame potassium: do not consume products containing this sweetener as an ingredient by its name or alternative names "acesulfame k" and "ACE" and do not consume artificial sweeteners under the names of Sunett, Sweet One, and Sweet 'n Safe.

Alitame is a low-calorie sweetener that is 2,000 times sweeter than sugar. It is composed of amino acids L-aspartic acid and D-alanine. The FDA has not approved the use of alitame. There is very little known about the potential physical effects of the substance on the human body.

How to avoid alitame: seeing that this sweetener has no conclusive side effects, it may not be important to avoid. Also, it is highly difficult to find foods, in the first place, which include acesulfame potassium as an ingredient.

Aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar and has little to no calories. It is composed of 40% aspartic acid, 50% phenylalanine and 10% methanol; aspartame is FDA-approved. Aspartame has a lengthy list of varied negative side effects. First and foremost, people suffering from the disease phenylketonuria should not consume aspartame, as their body cannot break down the phenylalanine. Even for a person without phenylketonuria, ingesting tiny amounts of phenylalanine can be a mental health risk; phenylalanine can concentrate in the brain and excessive levels of it in the brain disrupts serotonin levels, leading to emotional disorders. As for the other ingredients, aspartic acid, because it is an excitotoxin, has the ability to increase nerve cell stimulation, leading to rapid firing effects. Further, this overstimulation may result in the development of chronic nervous system disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease. Methanol, when consumed, distributes throughout the entire human body, metabolizing into formaldehyde.  Methanol has its own seemingly endless list of potential negative physical side effects: it may cause retina damage in the eyes, preterm delivery, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis, autism, interferes with DNA processes. Methanol is also known to be a carcinogen, as it feeds cancer cells. Aspartame, as a substance formed by the combination of the previously described "ingredients," has an incredible list of harmful side effects. The most common is headache, but other symptoms of aspartame include: visual hallucinations, mood changes, panic attacks, manic episodes, dizziness, nervousness, memory impairment, nausea, temper outbursts, depression, seizures, numbness, rashes, insomnia, hearing loss, vertigo and loss of taste.  

How to avoid aspartame: avoid eating foods (and chewing gums) with aspartame in the ingredient list and avoid artificial sweeteners by the names of NutraSweet, Equal, Sugar Twin, Spoonful and Equal-Measure.    

Aspartame-acesulfame salt is non-caloric and 350 times sweeter than sugar. It is composed of 64% aspartame and 36% acesulfame potassium.  The heating process involved in combining the ingredients removes the potassium, leaving only aspartame and acesulfame, hence the name.  While there is insufficient data about the health implications of consuming aspartame-acesulfame, one may be wary of consuming aspartame-acesulfame. During digestion, the substance is broken down into its two separate ingredients, aspartame and acesulfame potassium. Due to the aforementioned negative health effects of both, it may be ill-advised to consume aspartame-acesulfame salt.

How to avoid aspartame-acesulfame salt: avoid the artificial sweetener Twinsweet and pre-packaged foods containing aspartame-acesulfame as an ingredient.

Corn syrup is to be differentiated from the modern creation high fructose corn syrup. It is created through the process of adding enzymes to cornstarch to create syrup, which consequently breaks down into glucose. The glucose content can be anywhere between 20% and 98% of this syrup. Although corn syrup may not be inherently dangerous to the human body (although it is difficult to determine as there is little on non-high-fructose corn syrup), the unknown glucose levels and of potentially such high amounts, may be of concern. With perpetually above-normal levels of body glucose content, an individual is said to be pre-diabetic or diabetic.      

How to avoid corn syrup: avoid products containing the ingredient and also products that list "corn sweetener" or "corn syrup solids" as an ingredient. 

Cyclamate is 35 to 50 times sweeter than sugar and has no calories. It is composed of cyclamic acid, sodium cyclamate, and calcium cyclamate. Cyclamate is known to cause cancer in lab rats. In a long-term study of its effects on monkeys, the experimental group endured a wealth of health issues, including reproductive system atrophy and cancerous tumors. The control group of monkeys, of the same age as the experimental group, had no health problems at the end of the study.   

How to avoid cyclamate: if you're in the U.S. you do not have to be concerned about this as cyclamate is banned in the U.S. However, if in other countries, such as Canada, avoid Sweet N' Low and Sugar Twin artificial sweeteners. 

High fructose corn syrup is discussed in the first part of this "Foods to Avoid to Stay Healthy" article series.  

Hydrogenated starch hydrosylate is a mixture of sugar alcohols.

Neohesperidine dihydrochalcone is roughly 1500 to 1800 times sweeter than sugar and is non-caloric. It is created through the hydrogenation process of neohesperidine. At strengths of about 20 ppm or higher, neohesperidine dihydrochalcone can cause migraines and nausea.    

How to avoid neohesperidine dihydrocalcone: it has not been approved by the FDA, so it is not of concern if you are living in the U.S. The substance can be avoided by not consuming/using products with the ingredient "neohesperidine dihydrocalcone," "neohesperidine dc" and "NHDC."  

Neotame is 13,000 times sweeter than sugar and is non-caloric. It is composed of aspartame and dimethylbutyl. It is said that through the use of dimethylbutyl, phenylalanine production is blocked. The lengthy list of negative health effects attributed to aspartame were discussed earlier, but what are the health effects of dimehtylbutyl, if any? When tested on lab rats, repeated intake of higher amounts of dimethylbutyl led to an array of health issues, such as liver degeneration, hypothermia, and diarrhea.  However, when administered in lesser amounts, no significiant health effects on the rats were noted. No safety tests have been conducted on neotame, though it was approved as safe by NutraSweet, and, because of this, approved by the FDA. While this may seem unproblematic to some individuals, one has to consider that neotame has a higher level of toxicity than aspartame. Some people are concerned by neotame's potential health effects such as neurotoxic and immunotoxic damage.    

How to avoid neotame: avoid the artificial sweetener Sweetos and NutraSweet and products with the ingredient "neotame" or "neohexyl-aspartame."  

Saccharin is about 300 times sweeter than sugar and is very low in calories. It is the oldest of the artificial sweeteners, having been created in the end of the 19th century. Saccharin is a sulfonamide, which means it may cause allergic reactions to those who are allergic to sulfa drugs.  The substance was evaluated by the FDA in 1908, during which the regulator proposed a ban on saccharin. This ban was overruled by president Theodore Roosevelt who considered it "iditotic".  After, saccharin continued to be legal and used in the U.S. as an artificial sweetener. In the 1970s, tests done on lab rats found that those administered saccharin had higher rates of bladder cancer than those who were not. Saccharin was proposed to be made unavailable to American consumers, but ended up being labeled for consumers as potentially dangerous and for causing cancer in lab rats. Despite this knowledge of cancer occurrences, in 2000, the FDA repealed the warning label requirement for saccharin and in 2001 the FDA reversed their decision on saccharin, declaring it safe for consumption. Finally, in 2010, this substance was removed from the EPA's list of hazardous materials.      

How to avoid saccharin: avoid Sweet N' Low and food products which contain the ingredient "saccharin."  

Sucralose is a noncaloric sweetener that is 600 times sweeter than sugar. It is created through the process of selectively chlorinating sucrose's hydroxyl groups. Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that has been approved by the FDA for use in the U.S.; it is also used in foods in several other countries around the world. Critics of sucralose allude to potential toxicity and carcinogenicity for the human body, based off of tests conducted on lab rats with the substance. However, it was only in large daily doses that side effects such as decreases in food consumption occurred. Nevertheless, some reports claim that the composition of sucralose makes it impossible for the human body to metabolize normally

How to avoid sucralose: avoid Splenda and products with the ingredient "sucralose."

Sugar alcohols refer to any of the following artificial sweeteners: erythritol, glucitol/sorbitol, glycerol/glycerin, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol. These substances range from being non-caloric to very low in calories, at around 3 calories per serving. Sugar alcohols are hydrogenated carbohydrates, derived from a variety of natural resources. These substances have yet to be found to cause severely negative health effects, though may have disadvantages. Due to the fact that sugar alcohols are much more difficult for the human body to digest, many people are noted to have minor though uncomfortable gastrointestinal problems and weight gain as a result of overconsumption of the susbstances.     

How to avoid sugar alcohols: it may be less important to completely rule out consuming sugar alcohols, as their negative side effects are not life-threatening. However, moderating the amount of one's sugar alcohol intake may be helpful. Other names for "sugar alcohol" are polyol, polyhydric alcohol, polyalcohol, and glycitol.