Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

The Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners — Are They Safe for Kids?

February 8th, 2012 · 81 Comments · Food for Thought

artificial sweeteners dangers

source: Steve Snodgrass

In fashion, which I know absolutely nothing about, believe me, it’s vital to know about the next new thing. As the fashion changes, so must one’s wardrobe.

In food, marketers would like you to believe it’s the same system. Chemists create a new “food” in a lab, advertisers promote it, and once it’s in every box in the supermarket, we all eat it. As food fads change, so must one’s pantry.

Something about that strikes me as odd.

I strongly feel there’s a danger in eating the next new thing.

In primitive human civilization, the crazy one who tried eating something new was the test dummy. If he died, people wouldn’t eat it anymore. If he survived, party on!

I choose to be the cautious observer, preferably for centuries, to make sure what I put in my mouth is actually food, and brings nourishment to my body. I someone created it in a lab, I question why I should consume it.

As a Christian, I believe that God created a good world with everything we need in it to survive. And while He also gave us humans the sense to make amazing inventions that certainly improve our lives, I am hesitant to jump into actually eating them. I’d rather trust a chef to use God-given food to create a great new recipe than a scientist to make a great new food.

Artificial sweeteners all fall into the category of man-made “foods,” and they’re worth exploring individually so you know what to look out for, and why.

Let’s try not to be the test dummies.

Artificial Sweetener: Aspartame

What is it? A proprietary, patented chemical that has something to do with Phenylalanine. My eyes kind of crossed reading the chemical description, so if you really want to know what aspartame is, Wiki will tell you. (The phenylalanine means that folks with PKU need to avoid it.)

Here’s your first clue something is not a food – you have no idea what it is or how it’s made.

Names to watch for: Nutrasweet, Equal, AminoSweet, phenylalanine, aspartame – be careful in unassuming things like vitamins, medicines, and foods with added fiber.

Discovered: 1965, on accident while trying to create an antiulcer drug. Yep, made by a scientist so sloppy he would lick his finger in a lab. “Hey, that’s sweet! Maybe we can eat it…”

Interesting anecdote on how aspartame got approval here – it may be from a biased source, but it’s fascinating if true!

Used in food since: 1983 (beverages), 1993 (everything else)

A must-read: the first few pages of the statement by Dr. John W Olney, M.D., to the aspartame board of inquiry in 1980, recommending that it not be approved for use in any population. He stood by that opinion in 1997 after watching the rate of brain tumors increase 10% since aspartame’s approval.

Is it dangerous? Why? Yes! Sources may be split, but I’m not.

Aspartame is a neurotoxin and an excitotoxin, which make it particularly harmful for children, in my opinion, because their brains are so much less protected that adults’ brains. It may be linked to birth defects, cancer, brain tumors, and weight gain. (source)

Recent studies in Europe show that aspartame use can result in an accumulation of formaldehyde in the brain, which can damage your central nervous system and immune system and cause genetic trauma.

Aspartame has had the most complaints of any food additive available to the public. It’s been linked with MS, lupus, fibromyalgia and other central nervous disorders. Possible side effects of aspartame include headaches, migraines, panic attacks, dizziness, irritability, nausea, intestinal discomfort, skin rash, and nervousness. Some researchers have linked aspartame with depression and manic episodes. It may also contribute to male infertility. (source)

Many people drink diet sodas (almost always sweetened with aspartame) to lose weight or stay thin – unfortunately, whenever our bodies eat something sweet, our brains expect calories to follow, AND we crave more sweets. Artificial sweeteners may damage the body chemistry, leading to weight gain, and they definitely increase cravings for sweets, causing many people to overindulge. (source)

One of the things aspartame breaks down into is methanol. Yuck. It doesn’t actually last very long – somewhere between a week and 300 days, depending on what it’s mixed into.

Medicine.net and CNN cite the safety of aspartame (WebMD and Mayo Clinic say it’s just fine, too), but they also point out that the last big study done (in 2007) was funded by a company that makes aspartame. In face, many of the sources claiming aspartame is safe can be traced back to the companies that market aspartame. This article does an amazing job tracing the money and business/political ties of those who promote aspartame and those who approve it for use in food. Scares me.

Other notes: Don’t diabetics need artificial sweeteners, though? No way – if you’re interested in diabetes and real food, you must read Brandy’s thoughts on her 27 years of diabetes management with zero artificial sweeteners!

Kids: I’m particularly concerned about the neurotoxicity of aspartame. Dr. Olney pointed out in 1980 that aspartame killed neurons in lab rats, and that children’s nervous systems aren’t protected by the blood-brain barrier. He told the FDA, “We can be reasonably certain there is no margin of safety for the use of aspartame in the child’s diet.” They didn’t listen.

Artificial Sweetener: Sucralose

What is it? Made from sugar with extra chloride bonded to it. The idea is that sucralose isn’t digested, so you can consume something sweet, then absorb zero calories from the sweetener. However, some studies show that up to 25-30% of sucralose IS absorbed into the body.

Names to watch for: Splenda

Discovered: 1976

Used in food since: 1998/2006

Is it dangerous? Why? Probably. Sucralose gets a much better reputation than many other artificial sweeteners, but my hunch is that the reason is simply that there haven’t been any long term studies yet, since Splenda is so new. One Duke study, which is pegged as unreliable, found that sucralose “reduced the amount of good bacteria in the intestines of rats by up to 50%, increased the pH level in the intestines, [and] contributed to increases in body weight.”

Those adverse effects haven’t been seen in humans, however.

Right. Because no one I know is populated by bad bacteria/weak immune system, suffering from chronic fatigue or pain (high pH symptoms) or gaining weight.

Other notes: If sucralose is passed through without being broken down in the body, guess where it goes? The waste stream, and ultimately back into the environment.

Swedish measurements have proven that wastewater treatment has no effect on sucralose, and while we don’t have proof that it will harm the environment, we do know that the levels of sucralose in the ecosystem will increase since it’s not being broken down. In a U.S. study, sucralose was found in over 75% of drinking water. What the consequences may be, we can only guess.

Kids: Unfortunately, once Splenda was approved for food, it started sneaking into foods that previously did not have artificial sweeteners.  Many products marketed for kids like “lower sugar” juices, ice cream, yogurt, and much more, have Splenda in them. It’s not always clear from the front of the package, like a diet soda vs. a regular soda, when a product contains Splenda (sucralose), and it’s often combined with regular sweeteners like sugar and high fructose corn syrup. This article was the most fascinating I read, and it pointed out that we are absolutely the guinea pigs for the safety of Splenda. I’m not willing to let my children be test dummies:

“Thanks to an agreement between McNeil Nutritionals (makers of Splenda) and PTO Today, which provides marketing and fund-raising aid to parents’ associations, your elementary school’s next bake sale may be sponsored by Splenda — complete with baked goods made with the product.” (source)

sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Artificial Sweetener: Neotame

What is it? Modified version of aspartame: “a chemically modified molecule derived from the amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid.” (source) It’s stable under heat, whereas aspartame is not, so it can be used in baking. It’s also more potent, 30 times sweeter.

Names to watch for: ??? Here’s the scary part: because it’s so sweet, manufacturers use very little, and labeling laws don’t require ingredients to be listed if they are less than 1% of the total mass. Therefore, neotame could be in foods without being listed on the label or hidden under the ambiguous umbrella term “natural flavors.”

Discovered:

Used in food since: 2002

Is it dangerous? Why? Chemically similar to aspartame, neotame is supposed to be safe for those with PKU, but really, because there aren’t ANY studies available to the public (over 100 have been done, marketers claim…), how can I even entertain the thought of consuming it???

Other notes: Neotame is marketed as “a flavor enhancer that ‘accentuates and lifts the flavors in food.’” Sounds like MSG to me. I don’t trust it, but now at least I know what to watch for in the ingredients labels!

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Artificial Sweetener: Acesulfame potassium

What is it? a potassium salt – technically, “the potassium salt of 6-methyl-1,2,3-oxathiazine-4(3H)-one 2,2-dioxide.” That doesn’t mean a whole lot to me, either.

Names to watch for: Acesulfame K, Sunett, Sweet One

Discovered: accidentally in 1967

Used in food since: 2003

Is it dangerous? Why? Unknown. The body is unable to break it down, so it passes through undigested. This may interfere with general metabolism. Linked to breast and lung cancer, reactive hypoglycemia, but studies questioned.

As with other artificial sweeteners, Ace K can cause an increased craving for sweets.

What perhaps concern me most about this chemical is the obvious lack of information about it. I feel like there aren’t even enough studies to dispute. It’s definitely a case of “innocent until proven guilty,” which is great for people, created inherently good, but downright dangerous for food products. Even the innocent are in jail until it’s proven.

Other notes: Check your medications for this one, especially chewables and liquids. Acesulfame K is often added to them to make the medicine more palatable.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Artificial Sweetener: Saccharin

What is it? It’s called benzoic sulfilimine, which is made starting with toulene, an ingredient in paint thinner. Chemists then use such things as sodium nitrite (a carcinogen I avoid in bacon and lunchmeat), hydrochloric acid, chlorine, and ammonia…and some other stuff…I am not a chemist!…to then create saccharin. Yummy. And they thought we should eat this WHY?

Names to watch for: Sweet’N Low

Discovered: 1878, on accident while working on coal tar derivatives. Again, yum.

Used in food since: Widely since sugar shortages during World War II.

Is it dangerous? Why? Unclear. Saccharin passes through the system undigested but can cause insulin release because of its sweetness.

It’s the oldest artificial sweetener, and there really isn’t much reputable data to show that it’s harmful. It’s often called the “safest” of all artificial sweeteners. “No study has ever shown a clear causal relationship between saccharin consumption and health risks in humans at normal doses.”

Other notes: Saccharin is put into infant formulas! Gah!

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Are There Any Safe Calorie-free Sweeteners?

I’m a fan of stevia, which has been used for thousands of years in other countries. Some question the processing of the stevia leaf into a liquid, and especially into a white powder.

Worried about stevia dangers? Just make sure you know how to find pure stevia vs. those name brand counterfeits that are mostly made of something other than stevia.

Watch for Sneaky Artificial Sweeteners In:
  • chewing gum (try finding one without it for a plane trip)
  • yogurt (Light n fit, low cal, added fiber)
  • creamer
  • “less sugar” juice
  • pudding, jello
  • snack bars
  • lite popcorn
  • well, “lite” anything!
  • Watch for words like “lite” “less sugar” “low sugar” “sugar free” “diet”

Where else do you see artificial sweeteners when you least expect them?

Certainly many of you don’t really buy food with labels but make your own and focus on real meats, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. However, especially if you have children, you’re going to be presented with packaged food treats. Unless you swear off everything in a bag or a box, you’re going to want to learn to watch out for these particular evils so you can decide if a food is an acceptable compromise at a party or a never-gonna-let-it-pass-the-lips-of-MY-child kind of thing.

For information on better, more natural sweeteners, check out the Sweet, Sweet Summer series.

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81 Comments so far ↓

  • Heather

    My mother-in-law loves her artificially sweetened diet foods. I’ve learned to let her eat what makes her happy (even though they clearly intensify her health problems). I do have a problem because she shares these foods with my children. I try to bring food for everyone to share that fits her diet and doesn’t contain the garbage but she still gives my kids the nasty stuff.

    Even if the health effects, which she clearly demonstrates, of any particular sweetener weren’t a concern the fact that at least once or twice a year a study is published linking artificial sweeteners to weight gain should be enough to keep them out of kids mouths in this age of childhood obesity awareness. Sadly, that is not the case. More previously unsweetened or naturally sweetened items contain artificial sweeteners.

    Katie Reply:

    Heather,
    Phew, I’m feeling for you. I’ve taught my MIL to read labels and/or simply not give “her” food to my kids, but honestly, the more I read about artificial sweeteners, the more “mama bear” I’m getting about them. NONE. Ever. Not for my kids. That’s my policy, and I’m going to have to get even better at reading labels…and insisting on others following that rule. I pray that you can figure out how to kindly make sure your MIL does NOT share with your kids…

    Katie

    Steph (The Cheapskate Cook) Reply:

    I agree! It’s so sad that we are so AWARE of the health problems our society is struggling with – obesity, malnutrition coupled with obesity, various diseases, etc. – but we’re unwilling to make dietary changes to reverse that. Even simple things like eating more fruits and veggies instead of junk food could help us so much. But we keep buying chips and we keep sending kids to school with packaged sweets and juice boxes.
    I don’t want to be that parent that never lets their kid enjoy a sno cone with his friends. But I do want to make sure the food I make for my children is good quality and is actually helping them, not harming them.

    Beth Reply:

    You are not alone, my MIL does the same. She is overweight has COPD, etc. and loves diet food! She is getting better because I can’t bite my tongue when it comes to my kids consuming scientifically engineered crap. She thinks though a sip of diet pepesi is okay and everyone wonders why I get so upset. I think it is a battle that will never end and causes a lot of visits to not go so well.

  • Gina M.

    This is so good! I think education about these things is so important. It’s funny how advertisers try to dupe us into buying their products by labeling them as “low sugar” or “all-natural”. I read a label recently that said “all-natural” on the front and in the ingredients was artificial coloring. Thanks for your knowledge and for sharing it with us!

  • Jessica

    “I’d rather trust a chef to use God-given food to create a great new recipe than a scientist to make a great new food.” Amen! I’ve tried to use more liquid stevia in things, especially coffee, but I am doing baby steps to give up that diet soda…

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Good luck, Jessica! I did baby steps to wean me onto diet soda back in 1997 shortly after college. I finally had to just go cold turkey to let it go. Fortunately, because I felt so strongly about my kids not having soda on their toddler teeth, my kids don’t like soda at all! Yahoo!

  • Melissa Blair

    Thank you so much for posting this article! I’m in my 30s, and have had a weight problem for most of my adult life, which means that for a long time, I’ve also consumed diet soda. A few years ago, by brother and sister-in-law brought to my attention a lot of the same points you make in this article, and as a result, I swore off aspartame and other artificial sweeteners and started using stevia. I noticed that after a few months of not consuming any artificial sweeteners, a lot of the aches and pains that I had always associated with being overweight mysteriously disappeared, as did my constant craving for more sweets!

    Katie Reply:

    Melissa,
    Great testimony, thank you so much for sharing! You are one of so many people who find that artificial sweeteners cause health problems…the evidence is someday going to stack up so high the FDA won’t be able to get around it anymore!
    :) Katie

  • Jennifer

    Oh, thank you so much for posting this article. People really need to be more aware of these dangers! I for one am incredibly allergic to these artificial sweeteners. Splenda/sucralose is the worst offender for me. If I inhale any of it, I get an asthma attack and a migraine to boot. If I accidentally eat any of it, I start throwing up.

    Worst ever was after I got out of open abdominal surgery and one of the first things they gave me to eat was jello. I had noted in my allergies that I was allergic to aspartame and sucralose, so I figured they’d given me regular jello. Took one bite of it, that sickeningly sweet taste hit my mouth, and that was it. Imagine how awful it feels to throw up when you’re only a few hours out of surgery with a nine inch incision down your belly. Ugh.

    I figure, sugar may not be the best thing in the world for us as human beings, but a little now and then is fine. If we just take care not to eat too much, we’d be so much better off. But we want to have our cake and eat it too…. just like so many other appetites in our society, we want to enjoy the pleasure of a thing without the consequences.

    Kathryn Reply:

    I, too, have had severe reactions to Splenda/sucralose. I have only had it accidentally (church potluck and children selling lemonade). Once it made my lips swell hugely – and that lasted several days. The next time was a migraine so severe i ended up in ER. Had they not been able to give me something for it, i think i would have been begging for them to simply remove my head (with a shotgun, if necessary).

    The sad thing is that at the church potluck i had some fruit salad that was just beautiful with fresh fruit. It never occurred to me that someone would have sweetened it. I learned that only by accident and am so fortunate that i did.

    I no longer trust any food at a potluck (not made by me). People often bring things that look homemade (3 Bean Salad, or Potato Salad or other things) but come from Costco or wherever. These usually have chemicals in them that i react against strongly. In fact, i’m afraid i now fall firmly into “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity” area.

    But at least i won’t be eating the bad stuff!

  • Elizabeth

    Quite frankly, I’m simply tired of my family being part of a giant experiment, because the fact of the matter is that sometimes we can’t know the full extent of what a material may do to us for an entire generation. If it had to be studied before being put out in the marketplace, I don’t want it.

    Katie Reply:

    Elizabeth,
    Yes! These 6-month studies are basically worth nothing! “If it had to be studied before being put out in the marketplace, I don’t want it.” Love that.
    :) Katie

  • Kathleen K

    Our food rules are rather simple:
    1. If my great grandmother (born prior to 1900, obviously, now deceased) would recognize the food, it is very likely safe.
    2. If, with a reasonably equipped kitchen, I could create the food, then it is very likely safe.
    3. If a 5-7 year old with basic reading skills can pronounce the word correctly, it is very likely safe.

    Everything else is suspect of being non-food and should be avoided unless further research is done.

    Thank you Katie for the reminder on WHY we shouldn’t eat artificial sweeteners.

    Katie Reply:

    Kathleen,
    Love these rules. Do your kids know them? Maybe a post about “how to teach kids to recognize real food” would be a good future idea for me…thank you! :) Katie

    Kathleen K Reply:

    Our boys do know the rules, but not as a list—more as a way of life. Now that they are older (7-13), I don’t restrict their choices away from home. If they do choose the “bad” stuff, they will usually push it away after a few bites because it tastes “bad” or “like chemicals.” Sometimes, letting them go through a stomach ache is more effective than telling them it is bad for them. They have been involved in all our food decisions for years, going with us to the farm markets, co-ops, grocery store. They also help in the garden and kitchen.

    And as for relatives…now that the boys are older, they choose not to eat the “bad” stuff at other people’s homes–usually I bring something with us, but if not, they pass the food up, knowing I’ll make sure we get “good” food later.

  • Jayme via Facebook

    I personally don’t think they are safe for anyone.

  • Mike Lieberman

    I’m with you on avoiding them. I don’t have kids now, but am already figuring out what to say to my parents and the in-laws about feeding that stuff to my children.

  • AmandaLP

    I am currently detoxing from diet soda. Day two of a migraine, nausea, and dehydration is not fun. At least I can handle the bone broth now!

    One other thing to worry about is Senomyx (of the Pepsi controversy, because they use fetal cells in their development of products.) It can be used in products and only labeled with “artificial flavor,” so you may not even know what is in your products.

  • Sharon

    People are very sensitive about and love artificial sweetners. I have been told more than once that Splenda is just like sugar. Before I knew better we used Splenda all the time. Afterall the dietician told me it was safe and encouraged me to use it. My youngest (then age 4) started seeing spots and having migranes. Of course a MRI was ordered. During the MRI the 700 Club was on discussing artificial sugars, hormones, msg, etc… Like a crazy person I went home and threw and gave away food. Within 25 days the symptoms were almost completely gone. I used the Feingold diet as a guide.

  • 'Becca

    The other day in Costco, a free-sample lady was hollering, “Great drink for adults and kids! No sugar! No calories! No carbs! No sodium!” I asked, “What IS in it?” You should have seen the blank look on her face!! She hadn’t even considered that question! When I asked whether it was artificially sweetened, she didn’t know. I ask that question about every free sample, not only because I have a very unpleasant metabolic reaction to artificial sweeteners but also because I’d like the people giving the samples and the other customers within earshot to think about it. Even some low-calorie foods that do have sugar in them ALSO have an artificial sweetener, to cut the total calories without letting that fake flavor seep through, so it’s wise to read labels if you are considering even tasting a processed food. I can react badly even to just a few bites if I eat it on an empty stomach.

  • Sharon

    Thank you so much for this information! I get horrible migraines if I ingest any artificial sweetener so I read labels very carefully and only buy items with natural sweeteners. However, my in-laws live on artificially sweetened items thinking that it gives them more food to eat while still maintaining their points on Weight Watchers. Do you have any suggestions for gently trying to get them to stop giving their food to my 3 year old when they visit? They know that I can’t eat it because of my migraines but see nothing wrong with giving it to my son, and probably my 7 month old once he is on solid food. My FIL goes on a rant when I mention buying organic foods because he grew up on a farm using pesticides and says that he and everyone he knew turned out fine, and since he is a retired chemical engineer is very defensive when anyone mentions how bad chemicals in the food supply can be. I’m still not sure how to handle situations like this!

    Kathryn Reply:

    I would probably tell them that since you have problems with the food, you don’t want to take a chance with your precious little ones to develop problems, too. I don’t know if this will work.

    My mother, also claims that they “have to” use pesticides at their place (sadly, i eat nothing she would give us from her fruit trees). She also had a severe exposure to pesticides when she was a child and claims she is “fine.” BUT she never considers the fact that she has SLE (lupus) and a great deal of pain, and that nearly all of her grandchildren have learning disabilities. Oh no, that never crosses her mind.

    I wish i had an answer for you.

  • Jamie

    I saw a “documentary” on aspartame called “Sweet Misery”–it was clearly low budget but really interesting. I was a Diet Coke addict…BIG TIME…I gave it up for a few years. When I first did, I went through physical withdrawal. It somehow found its way back into my regular routine, esp this past summer. Haven’t had an aspartame sweetened drink since 10/31/11. Woo hoo! I hadn’t even heard of neotame. You are so right, too, about watch out for medicines and vitamins….that’s just crazy! Thanks for keeping us informed!

  • Mish

    Oddly enough it was artificial sweeteners that started our family on the path to better eating. For years I had stomach trouble and figured I just had IBS. Then my youngest son was born, and I noticed he was super-sensitive to the dyes in Fruit Loops and red drinks. So we cut all that stuff out. Then, when I tried the Atkins Diet with my sister, I realized that MY problem was the aspartame in all the diet sodas and stuff I was allowed on that. When I cut all of the artificial sweeteners and MSG out of my diet, my stomach problems went away virtually overnight. Stupid me…I never thought about the youngest.

    One day he got a Sprite at the store–and I didn’t really look at the can. He was drinking it on the way home and suddenly told me that his tummy hurt BAD. I glanced at the can…saw Diet…and knew what the problem was. I wiped the house clean of all of that and started cooking from scratch more to make sure that “suspect” foods wouldn’t be asked for.

    It doesn’t seem to have the same effect on my hubby and older three, but they all know to limit their diet soda intake to a very small amount–when they have them at all. I got my kefir grains and am anxious to try some “soda” for them, as well as a lemonade recipe I found. Maybe I’ll be able to break that soda habit altogether.

    BTW, thanks for the bit about the neotame. I never heard of that either. *sigh* One more thing to watch out for.

  • Heather

    I think we share in-laws, well not the chemical engineer part. My father-in-law worked for the famous fast food chain for 20+ years. I’ll tell you that I have been unsuccessful in getting my in-laws to understand we don’t want the kids to eat that stuff. During the Super Bowl I found my MIL feeding my 10 month old daughter a sugar-free fudge pop. I’m not sure I can pronounce a single ingredient on the box. I don’t know that I can get through to them because even doctor’s orders (pediatrician ordered chemical free diet for his speech delay) changed NOTHING. All I can do is limit the food they can give him by hosting them at our house as much as possible and sleep overs don’t start until after dinner and end before lunch so all he eats there is breakfast. I hate limiting the options for his time with them like that but I don’t see any other way. Thankfully the baby is still nursing so I don’t have to worry about it all that much.

    Heather Reply:

    Oops, clicked on wrong reply button. That was in response to Sharon. Typing and making dinner do not do well together.

  • Jen @ TheUnProcessed Kitchen

    Long before I had children, I met a neurologist who warned me that if I ever had kids, not to feed them NutraSweet. This was right when it was coming onto the market; she said the effects on children’s brains is so toxic it shouldn’t be in children’s foods at all. When I was pregnant I wouldn’t even take a sip of Diet Coke, and although I was teased by my family it set the stage for not ever giving them artificial sweeteners, ever. I am picky about what I feed my kids, and while I don’t get upset about a lot of things other people occasionally feed them this is one thing I absolutely will not give in about.

  • Kim

    Look at all of your gum too–it ALL contains aspartame, even the sugared varieties. I have read that because you are chewing it in your mouth, it doesn’t go to the stomach, but rather directly passes to the brain. I don’t know the science behind that, but it was enough for me to ban all gum from our home.

    Karen Reply:

    My daughter, age 20, was given a pack of gum as part of a Christmas gift. She mentioned last night that she had finally finished it, but that it made her throat hurt every time. She looked at the ingredient list and found aspartame. We don’t buy gum, so I wasn’t aware of this.

    Katie Reply:

    Karen,
    I need to update this post with all the sneaky places aspartame hides – I tried to buy gum for a plane trip, and I’m telling you, it is next to IMPOSSIBLE to find it without artificial sweetener. There’s about one brand that’s safe. Crazy.
    Thanks for the reminder – Katie

    Jassica Reply:

    I agree, all the gum at the grocery/department store has artificial sweetener. I buy the Spry Xlear gum that has xylitol for when we want gum. I don’t have a problem with that in small amounts.

    Karen Reply:

    We buy Glee gum that’s sweetened with natural sugar. It’s about the only gum that doesn’t give me headaches. :)

  • Kim

    So, if a complete no-soda policy were not an option for your children, would you choose hfcs or aspartame/sucralose? I can never decide which is worse.

    I bought a Soda Stream trying to get my soda-addicted family off the junk, but mixing their own flavors didn’t last long, and all the mixes that you buy for it contain sucralose.

    Amanda Y. Reply:

    There are a few brands (sierra mist natural,pepsi throwback, etc) that are made with sugar–those are my picks preferably for a treat of soda. If those aren’t available, I will take HFCS over diet poison any day!

    Karen Reply:

    I agree. We have considered a Soda Stream for ginger ale. But we won’t be buying the commercial flavoring. I have found a recipe that uses ginger, sugar and water. We haven’t done it yet because we don’t buy much soda and don’t want to actually increase our consumption. The other flavors don’t interest us, but a recent bout of stomach flu involved a fair bit of ginger ale.

    Karen Reply:

    We do the same thing- when soda is in order (and sometimes it just IS), I buy throwback Pepsi or Mountain Dew for the family or Jones brand. Worse case, I’ll buy regular Coke (chock full of HFCS) but never, ever will I buy diet soda.
    This after being a diet Coke-aholic for nearly 20 years. I don’t drink any soda anymore. I gave it up nearly 2 years ago. But thanks to that nasty habit, I still crave it daily. And I do mean CRAVE it. You can’t convince me it’s not evil stuff in that aspartame….

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Kim,
    Yikes, I have no idea how I saw some comments on this post but not others, so sorry about that. The other commenters really echoed my sentiments already. I just never do diet, ever. Love finding soda with sugar not HFCS, but I don’t know that that will be much different in the long run. Soda is just so bad for you…there are some coming out with stevia, but sketchy. That’s a tough question, really…
    Katie

  • Brandy

    Thanks for the shout out Katie! :) SO loved this post! I’m doing a guest post about aspartame at The Humbled Homemaker this month so I’ll link back to yours! :)

  • Amanda Y.

    I see Equal and Splenda mentioned, but what about Sweet n Low? just curious, although I believe they are all poison. I also think we will soon find the same things about Stevia (yes, it starts with a leaf, but so does cocaine…it’s so processed, it’s not natural either)…hope you’ll cover that one soon too!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Amanda,
    It’s in there – Saccharin. Stevia has already been covered, although I came out mostly on the positive side: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/tag/stevia/

    So sorry it took me so long to respond…I got absolutely behind on comments when I released the second edition of the snacks book and truly have never caught up.

    –Katie

  • Emily @ Random Recycling

    I heard awhile back that prior to a flight,pilots were not allowed to drink diet soda because of the adverse affects of aspartame. I gave up all diet drinks after that.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Okay, now there is hearing something, and then researching it to back it up. I worked with pilots for years and watched many of them drink diet soda, and carry it onto the plane. Granted, I left that job in 1999, so something may have changed, but I’d still appreciate seeing something to back that up. I’m not saying that makes it safe. I still avoid it, but we all have to be careful with the information we share and work to make it as accurate as possible.

  • Beth

    What about trivia, etc. I don’t consume it but I teach a nutrition lesson weekly to my students and often the aids, teachers in the room ask about it.

    Kathryn Reply:

    Truvia is a patented sweetener made from PART of the stevia leaf. It is my understanding that it also contains a lot of fillers. I would not trust it or bother with it, i would go with real stevia (even when processed for powder or liqiuid it contains the whole plant, not just the “sweet” molecule cut out).

    Still, i’m thankful to the Cargill Corporation for coming up with Truvia as that opened the door to using stevia. (It was illegal in this country for a long time, and then only allowed as a “supplement” not a sweetener.)

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Beth,
    So sorry it took me so long to respond…I got absolutely behind on comments when I released the second edition of the snacks book and truly have never caught up. Yikes!

    Truvia is a little bit stevia and a lot erythritol – more on that here: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2012/02/17/xylitol-erythritol-sorbitolwhats-that-ol-about/

    Pure stevia is very different from Truvia – Hope that helps! Katie

  • Melissa

    Have you ever researched Xylitol? It’s supposed to be great for dental health, but how is it as a general sweetener?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Melissa,
    Now I have – here you are: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2012/02/17/xylitol-erythritol-sorbitolwhats-that-ol-about/
    :) Katie

  • Jen

    Does anyone have any suggestions for sugar free gum that is okay? I chew it all the time so that I don’t snack all the time. Any help???

    Kathryn Reply:

    I like Xylichew. http://www.nextag.com/xylichew-gum/products-html

  • Megan

    My MIL just bought a box of cookies that was “all natural” gluten free, allergen free, and sugar free. It was sweetened with malitol, but I’ve never heard of it before. Anyone have any ideas? She bought them to give to my son who has food allergies so I’m concerned. All I could find was that it was sugar alcohol, but I don’t know what that means either. Thanks in advance!

    Katie Reply:

    Megan,
    I’ll be looking into all the sugar alcohols next week, hopefully. Keep watching! :) Katie

  • Jill via Facebook

    Ugh, UGH! As if all the other reasons not to give your baby infant formula weren’t enough!

  • Crystal via Facebook

    Unfortunately, some women have no choice but to feed their babies formula.

  • Beth

    What brand of Stevia do you recommend? It is really confusing to me to look at all the choices out there. How do I know which is the “real” one?

    Kathryn Reply:

    I have tried most of them now, and i really prefer the KAL brand liquid stevia. (Powdered KAL stevia is okay, too.) I’ve shared it with other folks who haven’t had good stevia experiences, and most of them seem to like it too. I REALLY like the KAL brand vanilla stevia, tho it is not as pure and has maltodextrin and food starch in it.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Beth,
    I’ve heard good things about KAL but not tried it myself, but we like NuNaturals and Sweetleaf here. More: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/09/22/a-sweet-sweet-summer-what-are-the-facts-on-stevia/ and http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/09/29/how-to-use-stevia-liquid-or-powder/

    So sorry I missed your comment for so long! :(

    –Katie

  • Nava Jojo via Facebook

    I was brought up (25 yrs ago) to never drink diet soda (we didn’t have soda in the house at all, but relatives did) and to look for the ‘lollipop’ picture on the label (http://bit.ly/yn45Yh) and stay far away from it. Nowadays? You’re lucky if there’s even an insignia (I still don’t bring soda into the house)..

  • Joanna via Facebook

    Thank you for posting this. It’s a real eye opener. I’m one of the women who has to supplement with formula, but I use an organic formula. I’m checking the ingredients again though.

  • Joanna via Facebook

    My formula doesn’t have the artificial sweetener! It’s worth the extra money to feed him the organic.

  • Amanda via Facebook

    I would add that there are other options out there, you can make our own formula and goats milk is the closest thing to mother’s milk you can get. Just my 2 cents

  • decafmom

    Thank you for this comprehensive overview! The thing that bothers me most is that, even with studies stacked up against these sweeteners, they’ll probably never be removed from our food. I fear that the chemical companies engineering the sweeteners are also the ones lining the pockets of our food regulators. I bet the all that will happen is the old Sweet N Low warning label about links to cancer in laboratory animals. The best we can hope for is that the new “fad” sweeteners that replace these will be safer and healthier. Fat chance!

  • Kathryn

    I like Xylichew Gum. It doesn’t have enough Xylitol in it to create gastric problems for me. I keep it at work (massage therapist) and suck on it while working with clients. (Mints disappear too quickly.)

    It is pricey, but i don’t use it all the time, mostly only when working (a few hours a week).

  • Kathryn

    I have substituted all the sugar in our pumpkin pie for 1/2 tsp of liquid stevia (one pie). My husband is a pumpkin pie snob, so i wasn’t sure about this, but he really likes it. Now i can know that our treat is very good for us with no sugar added. If only all desserts were so easy to convert!

  • Green Your Weekend Links

    [...] The Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners — Are They Safe for Kids? from Kitchen Stewardship – I love all the research Katie puts into here posts (because then I don’t have to do it!) And this one if full of important information about artificial sweeteners. [...]

  • julie

    A thought –
    For years ago health food conscious folks started preaching from the hilltops about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup. (I have a co-worker who won’t talk about anything else during lunch).

    I wonder if all of the anti-HFCS hype helped to market the “low sugar” advertising on beverages. (And as this anti-artificial-sweetner message takes hold, what will the companies use to replace it?) Fashion is an excellent analogy, not only for what is in our pantry, but also for what the “Fad Bad Foods” are at any time.

    Karen Reply:

    I think quite the opposite is true. All my research on HFCS and our subsequent decision to eliminate from our diet did not push us to artificial sweeteners but rather to the natural alternatives.

    We now use honey, stevia, and unbleached sugar instead and look for products that do as well. I’ve been diligent about writing to our favorite products and asking them to change their formulations, and they have, so clearly I am not alone!

    Kathryn Reply:

    Some people only listen to part of the story, make a decision without looking at all the facts, and jump to something they consider “healthy.” A lot of people think diet drinks are “healthy.” Research proves otherwise.

    Anything with HFCS is likewise unhealthy, but for entirely different reasons. The add that says your body can’t tell the difference is a lie. Your body doesn’t know how to process HFCS, now called “corn sugar,” and will turn it into triglycerides (fat).

    As someone else commented on craving soda, i continue to do so as well. I never drank diet drinks, but i drank a lot of sweetened soda. But my triglycerides topped out at 658 and the doctors freaked and wanted to put me on drugs. I just smiled, stopped drinking soda, and that number dropped by over 450 points in the next 9 months, still too high but much closer to normal.

    But like any addict, i thought i could “manage” it. I was thinking, “One a month won’t hurt me.” Then it was one a week, and before long i was drinking a lot again. These days i try to entirely avoid soda. On the rare occasion we have it, we choose an organic, sugar-sweetened soda. It still is not healthy, but all right as an occasional treat.

    These days i try to use stevia for almost all of our sweetening (and i guess i’m doing ok; i think the last time i used sugar was over Christmas). Even the organic raw sugar will often cause a migraine for me.

  • via Facebook

    one surprise to me was how they actually destroy gi-flora!! crazy awful….also look at research with link to gulf war syndrome. ugh.

  • Brenda via Facebook

    oh Katie, this is great! My mind is still reeling from some very disturbing info our priest shared with us at mass sunday related to testing of “flavor enhancers.” It is pathetic what big companies are getting away with these days, all unknown to th consumer.

  • Barbara H

    Great post – will be sharing it with a lot of people :)
    My current pet peeve is artificial sweetener in toothpaste. Ugh. I fork out about 6 bucks a tube to avoid flouride & saccharin.

  • Heather

    I personally think “don’t sweat the small stuff.” We don’t have artificial sweeteners at our house. I tell my children that they make them sick (pediatrician actually told me that sorbitol causes diarrhea). When they are at grandma’s house, or a friend’s house, I just don’t worry. 95% of the time they eat at home or food from home, and what we eat is clean and healthy, so if grandma gives them Crystal Light or they get a piece of candy at school, I don’t worry about it. Funny side note though: one time, my son was at grandma’s house and she gave him a yogurt. First thing he asked was “does this have aspartame in it?” mind you, he was about 3 or 4 at the time…they laughed about it to me later. And no, the yogurt did not have aspartame…and she doesn’t serve them Crystal Light anymore…

  • Sandy via Facebook

    the comment you posted with the article touches my heart, as I often feel like I am doing the research for everyone in my life… compiling all the info to be able to summarize it for those who need it. {HUGS}

  • Camille via Facebook

    My dad brought over popsicls for the kids last night. UGH. THen I saw “sugar free” on the box….! Yup, aspartame was right there in the ingredients. It was all I could do to not rip them out of my kids hands and throw them away. But I let them have 1 and then threw the rest out.

  • David via Facebook

    There not safe for any person living!

  • The Single Most Important Step to Ensure Clean Eating Success | daily digest

    [...] maybe cut out all artificial sweeteners, if that’s something stopping you from seeking an unprocessed food [...]

  • G

    I know this is an old post but I wondered if any one keeps sweeteners for guests if you Know that they use them. My MIL likes the pink stuff and seemed shocked when I didn’t have some at our gathering. I suppose it was because I knew she used it. But I don’t buy it and don’t keep it in my house. I would have to send it home with her.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    G,
    No, I don’t – but it depends on how gracious you want to be. In your situation, maybe you keep some just for her because it honors her. Or invite her to try stevia…? :) Katie

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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