Killing You Sweetly: Why Sugar Substitutes
aren’t Worth the Risk
July 24th, 2013 by Holly Cornish
Here’s something that will make you want to take your coffee black: sucralose might cause cancer. You probably know sucralose under the brand name Splenda, widely available in those little yellow packets. It’s marketed under other names as well, so if you don’t know what’s in your artificial sweetener, you should check (I recommend avoiding ALL of them).
The risk was uncovered by an Italian laboratory that found the sweetener caused leukemia in mice. I’ll tell you a why a risk exists in the first place for this popular sweetener. But — what’s most important — there are plenty of healthy, non-disease-causing sweeteners out there, as long as you know where to look. Discover your options below. . .
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The scary truth about Splenda
Most people choose Splenda/sucralose because they’ve been told it’s healthier than sugar. It prompts neither blood sugar nor insulin spikes. The FDA blessed its use as a tabletop sweetener in 1998, and most of the public still believes the FDA.
In 1999, it was approved as a general-purpose sweetener. And it’s better than sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and acesulfame potassium (found in candies and gum , it’s also known as Ace K and marketed as Sunett and Sweet One).
Sucralose is a chemically-altered form of sugar. The process is patented, but essentially comes down to inserting chlorine into the sugar molecule. That makes it a chlorocarbon. Unfortunately, chlorocarbons have long been known to cause organ, genetic, and reproductive damage.
Sucralose is also known to shrink the thymus gland by up to 40 percent. Given that the thymus is the foundation of your immune system, shrinkage can lead to many other problems.
To put it bluntly, any creature that eats chlorine risks cancer. It’s a known carcinogen as stated in both the Merck Manual and the OSHA Hazardous Waste Handbook. Obviously the risk varies according to the amount you take and how often you take it, but no matter how you look at it, chlorine is still a toxin.
That’s why the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently downgraded sucralose to a “caution” rating, as opposed to listing it as safe to consume. The CSPI has reviewed the Italian study and finds it used a superior protocol, even though the study is yet to be published. According to CSPI senior scientist Lisa Lefferts, “That’s why we put ‘caution’ instead of ‘avoid.'” A “caution” label means “try to avoid it, we need more testing.”
Defenders of sucralose might argue that chlorine embedded in a larger molecule differs from unbound chlorine. But the new studies suggest sucralose is toxic, too.
Natural and not-so-natural sugar substitutes
Of course, sugar itself is still a risky beast in the health world, and the daily mass quantities consumed are the main reason for our shockingly high rates of obesity and Type II Diabetes, in my opinion and that of many other researchers. I would love to be wrong — nobody’s more fond of cake and pie than I am — but this substance is a killer.
Because of the risks that come from ingesting too much sugar, the CSPI says diet soda—commonly sweetened with aspartame—is still better than sugary-sweet sodas. (I should note here that aspartame has also been linked to cancer in laboratory settings. As I said earlier, there is no good artificial sweetener.)
What can you drink instead? The CSPI urges plain water (know as “still” water), sparkling water, or unsweetened ice tea. Works for me (just don’t drink so much tea you disturb your sleep patterns.) The average American consumes an incredible 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, which adds up to 355 calories. If you’re on a kick of avoiding GMO foods, be aware that half the white table sugar made in the U.S. is beet sugar made from genetically modified beets.
There is life after sugar
In a moment I’ll suggest some natural (or mostly natural) sugar substitutes. But first let me pitch you on giving up sugar completely. It CAN be done, and this may actually be easier than trying to cut back or use substitutes.
You see, sugar is an addictive substance. It is the heroin of foods. Thus when you cut back, what happens is that a mere taste of it sets off all the pleasure centers in your brain and you end up going on a binge. You may start with the intention of having a bowl of ice cream but you end up eating the whole quart.
For this reason it’s actually easier not to touch it at all rather than wrestle with yourself day and night about whether a little bit will be okay, or whether you can do it “just this once.” Don’t try to make a decision every day about sugar. Make one big decision and stick to it.
I weaned myself off soft drinks a long time ago, and I take my coffee and tea without sugar. Soft drinks now disgust me. I once spat out a mouthful of Hawaiian Punch, a drink I used to love as a child. I couldn’t believe how sweet it was — utterly saturated with sugar. And believe it or not, coffee and tea taste excellent without sugar. For the first time in your life, you’ll actually taste the beverage, not the sugar.
Now for the “safe” sugar substitutes
If you really can’t live without sweetening up your morning cup of Joe, there are better ways. Consider these alternatives:
Agave nectar: This is a tiny improvement over cane or beet sugar. Also known as agave syrup, this sweetener comes from the agave plant, a relative of the cactus commonly found in Mexico. Agave nectar can also be extracted from the blue agave, which is the same plant used to make tequila. The syrup is 25 percent sweeter than sugar, which is a pro because you end up using less of it. It also dissolves quickly and contains a prebiotic that nourishes intestinal bacteria. But I wouldn’t call it healthy. It has the same amount of calories as table sugar—that’s 16 per teaspoon. On the processing scale, agave has to be hydrolyzed down to fructose. That’s one more step than honey and one less than high-fructose corn syrup.
Stevia: This sweetener comes from the leaves of the South American shrub Stevia rebaudiana. It’s between 25 and 30 times sweeter than sugar and has been used for years in Europe, Japan, and South America. Yet stevia isn’t as natural as most people want to believe. The stuff is highly processed to remove its natural and slightly bitter aftertaste that smacks of licorice, though some brands don’t bother with this, so the slight licorice taste remains. It also gets blended with maltodextrin so it pours like table sugar. It does help you cut calories and avoid blood sugar problems. It’s just a question of whether you can stand the taste.
Truvia: This one comes from rebiana, which is a compound found in the leaves of stevia. Truvia is trademarked as a “natural” sweetener, but is the brainchild of Coca-Cola and Cargill and is sweetened with erythritol. It doesn’t pack any calories, but also doesn’t taste much like stevia.
Honey: It’s a kitchen staple, yet most people don’t think of using it when they’re looking for a sweetener. But honey packs a concentrated dose of antioxidants. If you buy honey local to your area, it can even help you fight seasonal allergies. Setting aside the nutrients and just considering honey as a sweetener, I doubt if it’s much healthier than cane or beet sugar. It still packs calories and raises your blood sugar.
Blackstrap molasses: Molasses is a by-product of sugarcane processing and can be used to replace as much as half the sugar in any recipe. It’s also a proven way to sweeten everything from coffee to beans. Plus, this black-gold liquid has iron, vitamin B6, magnesium, calcium, and several antioxidants—more than any other natural sweetener. Again — better than table sugar but not what I’d call healthy.
I think a good rule of thumb is to never eat anything artificial. Real food doesn’t have to be tested for unheard-of risks. And while sugar should be consumed in moderation just like everything else, at least consider using these alternatives so you can ingest somewhat fewer calories while you curb your chemical, processed food exposure.
Lee Euler, Publisher