Posts Tagged ‘Artificial Sweeteners’

Sugar or Artificial Sweeteners?

A couple weeks ago I posted a question on Facebook …

Sugar or artificial sweeteners.  Which do YOU choose?

The answers ranged from NEITHER to ONLY stevia to regular sugar, brown sugar and so on.  In other words, they ran the gamut.

Here’s our take.

IDEALLY, we’d say neither.

But since this is the real world, we’ll pick.  And we’d say SUGAR. 


Sit tight.  More specifically than sugar, we’d first say local honey. 

Is it magical with loads of powerful nutrients like some profess?  Nope.

BUT, at least it’s more slowly absorbed than regular sugar and there are actually some interesting data showing local honey (local to your area) may help with allergies and they’re also experimenting with it in healing wounds.  NOTE, we don’t suggest pouring honey on an open wound and hoping for the best.  There’s certainly more to it than that.

Let’s explore this a bit further.

First, adults eat about 22 teaspoons of ADDED sugar each day. That’s equal to washing down a candy bar by guzzling down two 12 oz cans of soda.

Teens are even worse with 34 tsp of added sugar per day.

So instead of washing that candy bar down with 2 cans of soda, add another can on top of that for teens.  EACH day.

Soft drinks are the #1 contributor to this glut of sugar, followed by candy, cakes, cookies and pie.  Sad.

Is it weird, then, that our answer to "Sugar vs. Artificial Sweeteners" is "sugar?"

Let’s step back for a second.

Added sugars are horrible for you.  The majority of the population eats WAY too many.

But we’re not so keen on artificial sweeteners either.  Why?  Well, they’re artificial chemicals that we’re dumping into our bodies and while data is out there that these are safe in certain doses, there’s also been a lot of safety data for pharmaceutical medications like Vioxx, which they ended up pulling off the market for a variety of safety concerns.  Maybe less severe, but certain artificial sweeteners are triggers for migraines and more recently, some data suggests artificial sweeteners affect body weight and blood sugar.

Again, you see the dilemma in that it’s a hard question to answer.

What makes it particularly difficult is the answer "neither" is not practical.

Case in point.  In Louisville yesterday nearly 3000 athletes competed in the Ironman — an event where you swim, bike and run a total of 140.6 miles.  I did it 3 years ago.  It’s certainly not easy.

But you wouldn’t decide on Saturday that you were going to participate in this race the next day.

Likewise, it’s not practical to take someone with a several soda per day habit and say NEVER again will you drink soda.  And don’t think about replacing it with the diet alternative … just drink water from this point forward!

Small Steps = Big Results!

We believe if you currently use a lot of added sugars — soda, candy, cakes, cookies, etc — target ONE of those and change that.

Currently drink a can of coke each morning?

The switch to Diet Coke is a good small step.

Work with that for 1 week. 

The following week, continue with that first step and improve something else too.

Maybe if you’re a vending machine person in the afternoon where you typically grab a candy bar, plan ahead and choose a piece of fruit instead.

Small Changes = Big Results!

Ultimately, continue to drink less and less of the soft drinks and replace them with their diet alternatives.  Then, down the road, again, replace those diet alternatives with something like water with fresh fruit cut up, or use a berry green tea and make unsweetened iced tea.

Lots of options, you just have to think outside the box.

The key overall with sugar OR artificial sweeteners is moderation.  Like we said, neither are great.  Is having 1 sweet treat on occasion going to kill you?  Of course not.

At the same time, don’t rationalize your daily soda and cookie habit as "moderation."

What do YOU think?  Sugar or artificial sweeteners?

Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think!



Stevia — Hype or Hope?

Following up to the piece the other day about the safety of artificial sweeteners, time to cover another sweetener that comes from a plant and has made some serious waves in the nutrition market, as it’s commonly pitched as the "natural sweetener."  It’s Stevia.

Is IT the answer to shedding body fat healthfully?

Is it a safe alternative to Splenda and Equal?

OF COURSE — it’s natural!  

Hope you didn’t fall for that, did you? 

There a lot of "natural" herbs and other ingredients that we should probably stay away from.

Let’s find out the truth.

Stevia is a relatively new comer in terms of popularity, even though it’s been used for 100′s of years.  It’s exploded in the last few years as consumers are looking for a "natural" calorie free alternative to artificial sweeteners.

Stevia fits that bill.  Stevia’s real name is Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) and it is an herb native to Paraguay and Brazil.  

But, while it has been used for 100′s of year now, it has always been labeled a "dietary supplement" since it didn’t have the OK from the FDA as a food ingredient.

There were some concerns with Stevia after early studies suggested there may be some concern with its use with fertility and reproductive development and even genetic mutations!  Lo and behold, more recent data submitted to the FDA regarding the safety of a Stevia extract, known as Reb A, granted this particular extract GRAS status (generally recognized as safe).  This was in December 2008/

However, the FDA still maintained the position about calling Stevia at dietary supplement with this statement "Reb A is different than whole leaf stevia or other stevia extracts, which can only be sold as dietary supplements."  They continued "Nobody has provided the FDA with evidence that whole-leaf stevia is safe."

In fact, one consumer advocacy group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) stands by their position that Reb A GRAS status was granted too early, suggesting not enough supportive safety data is available.

As usual, there are of course two sides to each story.  Let’s look at the pros and cons of this ingredient.


  • Stevia is about 250-300 times sweeter than sugar
  • Stevia is stable to heat, making it safe for cooking
  • Stevia is calorie free
  • Stevia doesn’t promote dental caries like sugar


  • It has a bitter taste that some may not enjoy, also making it difficult to include in large quantities (in baking, for example).
  • It’s more expensive than most other sweeteners
  • Data is mixed here – some show DNA damage with high doses of stevia intake, others show no effect at all.

From what we know now, the FDA considers Reb A safe…

If searching for this in the store, look for either "Truvia" and "PureVia" — the consumer names for the Stevia extract.

Or, you can maybe find a stevia plant, like I did, at our local farmers market. 

What do you think?  Is Stevia the next big thing in terms of sugar replacements?


Artificial Sweeteners Make You Fat

Late last year, I’m sitting in an office building with the agent of an NFL Player and the player himself.  We were working together to help the player lose weight.

While there was some initial success, he hit a little plateau.  His agent asked the player "what are you drinking?" 

"Crystal Light, diet soda, and water only.  Chris said no liquid calories."

And his agent blew through the roof — "NO WONDER HE ISN’T LOSING" he said to me, "I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU TOLD HIM HE CAN USE ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS.  Didn’t you see the report — artificial sweeteners cause you to GAIN weight more than regular sugar!!!"

And that’s when it got a little awkward in the room.

But that’s how the meeting started.  And I’m now put on defense to defend my position…in front of the player himself who I did in fact tell "no liquid calories" because soft drinks and slurpees were a regular addition to the daily diet.

In another post I talked about if you should use Stevia.  And just last week I talked about the new study suggesting artificial sweeteners cause heart disease.  But now we’re shifting our focus to cover some more specifics about sweeteners — and there are a bunch, like Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), Sucralose, Saccharin,  and Aspartame. 

Are they a better option than calorie containing sugar options when trying to lose weight and burn belly fat?

Let’s delve into them a bit and discuss some of the realities and myths with calorie free sweeteners.

Each of the artificial sweeteners has an "acceptable daily intake" (ADI) — meaning according to the FDA, you should not consume MORE than the amounts listed below per day.

  • Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal) = 18-19 cans of diet cola
  • Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low) = 9 to 12 packets
  • Acesulfame K (Sunett, Sweet One) = 30-32 cans diet lemon-lime soda
  • Sucralose (Splenda) = 6 cans diet cola

Fair enough?  Now depending on who you talk to, or what you read, you’ll hear all different opinions — "I only use sucralose, because xxxx" or "stevia is natural, so I use that…"

If you look at the values above, you may notice that according to the ADIs, the max for Splenda is just 6 cans of diet cola/day, whereas Equal is 18-19 cans.  Does that mean Splenda is more of a concern than Equal?  It might.

But as a side note, if you’re drinking THAT many diet colas/day, your diet needs an overhaul as there are absolutely zero positive qualities to diet colas (or any diet soda for that matter).

Let’s cover a few of these in more detail.  

Sucralose (Splenda):

While this one has received safety approval from the FDA, it’s surely not without controversy.  Picking sides with this is like jumping in to the Health Care Reform debate!

But I’m ready to go for it.

First, the upside of Sucralose:

  • it has virtually no aftertaste
  • it’s stable when heated so you can cook and bake with it
  • it’s stable at different acidities (pHs) so it can be added to things like lemon juice without affecting its sweetness
  • it has a proven track record of safety in many research studies.


  • anecdotally (meaning personal stories) have tied intake to migraine headaches
  • may affect healthy bacteria in the gut, according to animal data
  • it may cause weight gain? 

This last one is a bit more controversial.  In a nutshell, one study using rats fed them different quantities of sucralose.  At the end of the 24 week study, the rats consuming sucralose gained weight compared to the ones that didn’t take any in.  And that’s the study this players agent was referring to.

Weird.  Zero calories, how can it cause dangerous belly fat to creep up on us?

I will say at this time I’m not impressed with the data showing artificial sweeteners cause us to gain belly fat … I clearly need to see more research to support this theory. The thought was that while artificial sweeteners themselves don’t have calories, they "trick" the body into craving more sweet foods…

…voila, belly fat and overall weight gain is through the roof.  

It’s correlation data, but if I remember anything from statistics, it’s that correlation doesn’t mean causation.  In a nutshell, the correlation that those who used diet soda weighed more doesn’t mean the diet soda itself caused them to gain weight.  More research clearly needs to expore this.  Keep in mind, also, that the doses used in this particular study were very high if we tried to extrapolate these findings to humans.  At this point I just don’t buy into that conclusions of this data and am surely calling for more.  That’s what I said to this players agent.

Again, another red flag for me here is that the "maximum" recommendation is 6 cans of diet cola — for some, that’s a ton, but for others, that’s breakfast.  Regulate your intake!

By the way, the agent and I never did come to an agreement — I’m still 100% confident that to have a person switch from 1-2L of regular soda each day (what this player drank) to diet soda is a huge positive step.  Perfect?  Nope.  Better.  Absolutely. 

Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal):

You’ve seen the little pink packets … pink packets of poison, according to some.  Like the others, this has the stamp of approval from the FDA.  But opponents of this suggest it causes migraines, causes cancer,brain tumors, and evil belly fat.

Like the others, the research is mixed — some studies show a negative effect, others show a positive effect.  

I hate to give the "more research is necessary" answer, but, well, it’s the best answer to give.

I talked about my feelings on the weight gain and artificial sweeteners with sucralose.

As for cancer — it’s a hard one to pin down.  These data are all done in animals, usually given very high doses, to see what happens.  

For some reason the review boards look very unfavorably at loading up humans with artificial sweeteners and seeing if they cause cancer (please read that with the intended sarcasm); therefore, we’re reliant on animal data.  But even if there is that chance, that concerns me … stamp of approval or not!

Like I mentioned in another blog about sugar and high fructose corn syrup, I don’t like the idea of artificial … I don’t want artificial ingredients in my body and try to limit them as much as possible.  I do that by knowing what I’m eating, being able to pronounce all ingredients, and eating foods as close to the earth as possible. 

With that said, I AM supportive of making the transition to calorie free drinks if someone is a regular soft drink (or juice, or sweetened tea) drinker

But as a whole, artificial sweeteners aren’t a favorite.  

We also have yet to find one without an off flavor.  Call us crazy, but we want to eat a food that, well, tastes like food — not have some bitter aftertaste that’s CLOSE to being real, but not quite there.

I’d personally rather have a REAL sweetener, infrequently.  Moderation.  That’s a very unsexy word in marketing and the media, but it’s true. 

You want a cookie? 

Eat a cookie — occasionally. 

Is a fat free, sugar free, calorie free flavored chocolate chunk piece of cardboard REALLY going to help out your desire for a cookie? 

Not a chance. 

Eat the real thing, on occasion, then get over it.  Fair enough?

Eating real foods is what will help you live as healthfully as possible, burn belly fat, and look and feel great!


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