By Mark Sisson

Diet cola, sugar free candies, even cookies from the bakery, so many products contain artificial sweeteners these days. As more people turn to low carb, high protein, primal diets as a form of good health, artificial sweeteners have gained wide popularity, replacing sugar in more types of foods than ever before.

But are artificial sweeteners harmful to your health?

Before considering the question, the first thing to ask is whether or not the artificial sweetener is necessary in the foods you choose to eat at all. While Diet Pepsi trumps regular Pepsi, nothing beats water in terms of old fashioned hydration. And those sugar free candies? Are those really adding any nutritional value to your diet?

But occasionally the craving is too strong, the sweet tooth takes over. Artificial sweeteners have provided an alternative to indulging in sweets without adding the unnecessary carbohydrates found in typical confections. Below are four of the most common artificial sweeteners and an explanation as to whether they are healthy or harmful.

1) Saccharine

Street Name: Sweet ‘n Low

This is the oldest artificial sweetener in the book. It has been around for almost 100 years! Originally used as a substitute for diabetics, saccharine was the solid staple of the faux sugar industry for most of those 100 years. But in the 1970’s, animal tests were conducted that resulted in various cancers (uterus, skin, bladder) associated with the artificial sweetener. The USDA slapped a “hazardous to your health” label on the substance and left it alone. Fast forward to 2000, more studies showed the original studies to be inconclusive, the “hazardous” label was removed and saccharine was upgraded from an unhealthy artificial sweetener to a questionable artificial sweetener. Out of the many choices, saccharine seems to have the most risks, especially for pregnant women, as the substance transfers to the unborn fetus. Also, many people avoid saccharine simply because the original source is petroleum!

2) Aspartame

Street Name: Equal, NutraSweet

Aspartame was the “healthy” artificial sweetener alternative to saccharine. It is a combination of phenylalanine and aspartic acid (amino acids) with methanol. It was the go-to for diet sodas for years, though many people are turned off by its distinct taste.

So, is aspartame a healthy artificial sweetener? Twenty-six FDA studies suggest it is, but there are still some who hold reservations. Aspartame has been proven to cause problems with people who do not metabolize phenylalanine at a normal rate. It has also been shown to cause complications for people with liver disease, and (again) pregnant women.

3) Sucralose

Street Name: Splenda

The newest darling of the artificial sweetener crowd, sucralose is actually made from real sugar. Sugar is chemically altered to form the artificial sweetener, hydrogen oxygen components are swapped out with chlorine molecules. This removes the caloric content of the sugar and what’s left is the artificial sweetener sucralose, which is roughly 600 times sweeter than the actual thing.

Sucralose arrived on the scene in 1998, so not as much research has been performed to prove whether or not the artificial sweetener is healthy or harmful, but so far all the research seems to suggest there aren’t any major harmful effects. New studies come out every month, though nothing has conclusively proven sucralose as a harmful artificial sweetener. It seems to be the winner out of the three mentioned so far. Though some people claim to have allergic reactions to the sweetener. It is always advisable to test the product before jumping in whole hog (try a slice of fake cake, not the whole thing).

4) Stevia

Street Name: Stevia

Stevia is the natural alternative; many claim it is the healthiest artificial sweetener. Stevia is an actual plant, originally from Paraguay, the sweetener usually comes as a powder extract. There have been no known harmful effects of Stevia. One drawback (depending who you ask) is the distinct flavor of Stevia. Many claim it has an aftertaste that ruins the effect of the sweetness.

Ultimately the decision is yours to make. Optimum health doesn’t require artificial sweetener (healthy or otherwise) as an essential part of diet, but artificial sweeteners do provide the alternative for the person with the enduring sweet tooth.

Mark Sisson is a fomer professional triathlete who runs a popular health and nutrition blog, Mark’s Daily Apple. Check it out for more great articles and information on the Primal Blueprint, a revolutionary health plan using the principles of human evolution as the basis for modern, high protein, healthy living.
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