Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for You?

artificial sweetenerSugar can pack on the pounds, increase cravings for sweet foods, and cause tooth decay. So what’s a sweet tooth to do when health is at risk? Most people now turn to sugar substitutes. Even though artificial sweeteners are often the topic of debate because extremely high doses of saccharin have been shown to cause bladder cancer in lab rats, there is no scientific proof that they cause cancer in humans. Saccharin, one of the oldest artificial sweeteners, was discovered in 1870 by accident one night when a chemist spilled lab material on himself and noticed a sweet taste coming from his hand while eating dinner later that night.

So how do you know if you should be using sweeteners or not? Let’s take a look at how they work when ingested. Artificial sweeteners are typically way sweeter than normal sugar, so tiny amounts can give you the same sweetening power but without the calories. They have been approved by the FDA as safe to consume, but we still need to keep in mind that by adding artificial sweeteners to our food and drink, we are still eating something that has no nutritional value and does not function like food in our systems.

While people suffering from diabetes may use it as a last resort, if you can avoid using artificial sweeteners, you should. Here’s why: Some studies have shown that people who consume large quantities of artificial sweeteners while dieting, end up eating more. While they load up on diet sodas and “sugar-free” frozen treats, they might be saving on part of their calorie intake only to trigger a stronger need in the body for the real thing. Many will end up making up the calories with other items like salty snacks or even high fat treats that they wouldn’t normally eat.

So how do you chart your sugar intake and even decrease it? It can be challenging when you are a hardcore candy-holic like I was growing up, but here’s how I did it.

1. How much sugar do you really eat? Take an honest look at how much sugar you consume in your every day diet, including breakfast cereals, drinks, candies, muffins, cakes, cookies, condiments (like ketchup and relish), as well as other prepackaged foods. Most condiments have high-fructose corn syrup in them. Read labels, it only takes 10 minutes a day to figure it out.

2. See if there is a “repeat offender” in the list. Limit it to just once a week or cut it out altogether if you can. In college, mine was one candy bar a day, at 273 calories, 14 grams of fat, and 28 grams of sugar. So how much sugar should you limit yourself to a day? The USDA tells me that for a person my size, age, weight, and activity level, I should limit extra fats and sugars to a total of 265 calories – that means every day I was going way over the limit because of that candy bar! Slowly, those extra calories, sugar and fat turned into fat that was visible on my body. I decided to stop having my daily treat just for a month – just to see what would happen, without making any other changes in my diet. Guess what? I lost a whole dress size.

3. Replace some of the high-sugar items in your diet with healthier choices. Craving a cool ice cream treat? Try a low-sugar pop without artificial sweetener made with low-fat yogurt. If you find yourself guzzling those sugary gourmet coffee drinks, try making your own warm drink with a lot less sugar like my spiced chai tea that you can make ahead.

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