“Sugar Free” Does Not Equal Healthy (and more startling facts about artificial sweeteners)

When a packaged food is touted as “Sugar Free,” that oftentimes means the real sugar has been left behind and replaced with an artificial sweetener. This is yet another reason why it is so important to always read ingredient labels.

Did you know that artificial sweeteners were literally invented in a lab by food scientists and that some of those sweeteners only entered our food system as recently as a few decades ago? That is practically brand new in a world where people have been eating for tens of thousands of years and – in my book – the opposite of the real, traditional foods I strive to feed my family.

The Sugar Association says these artificial replacements are “chemically manufactured molecules – molecules that do not exist in nature.” And as a result, even though we do our best to avoid white (refined) sugar, I’d personally rather eat that (i.e., the real thing) over artificial sweeteners any day. To see which added sweeteners we’ve decided are real food approved, be sure to check out our “No Refined Sweeteners” mini-pledge.

Some “Sugar Free” Examples

(Clearly I see loads of other problems with these ingredient labels, but I am just sticking to the topic at hand today.)

"Sugar Free" Does Not Equal Healthy from 100 Days of #RealFood #sugarfree
"Sugar Free" Does Not Equal Healthy from 100 Days of #RealFood #sugarfree
"Sugar Free" Does Not Equal Healthy from 100 Days of #RealFood #sugarfree

Recent Headlines

The facts that raise red flags against artificial sweeteners are just startling.

From a Purdue University Study:

“Accumulating evidence suggests that frequent consumers of these [artificial] sugar substitutes may also be at increased risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”

From TakePart.com:

“We have the abstract of the study and what the laboratory said about leukemia. We don’t have the full data yet. That’s why we put ‘caution’ instead of ‘avoid.’ When there is evidence that something causes cancer, we take that pretty seriously. [Sucralose] caused cancer in the animals. We thought that we should pass that information on, and couldn’t, in good conscious, say it was safe,” says Lisa Lefferts, a senior scientist with CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest).

From CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest):

“In 2012 an independent Italian laboratory announced (but has not yet published) a study that found that sucralose caused leukemia in mice that were exposed from before birth. That was the same lab that several years earlier published studies indicating that aspartame caused cancers in rats and mice.”

From USA Today:

“Despite claims from Coke and other companies about the safety of aspartame, we still don’t know about its long-term effects,” says Karen Congro, a nutritionist and director of the Wellness for Life Club program at the Brooklyn Hospital Center. “Relying on artificial sweeteners probably causes cravings for sweets and sugar, which can contribute to obesity and poor eating habits.”

From Huffington Post:

According to Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., L.D., “A study in the journal Diabetes Care found that daily consumption of diet soda was associated with a 36 percent greater relative risk of developing metabolic syndrome and a 67 percent greater relative risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared with non-consumption. Another study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that, in one group of study participants, consumption of artificially sweetened beverages was associated with Type 2 diabetes. The findings are mimicked in rat studies as well. A study in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience found that consumption of products containing artificial sweeteners led to weight gain due to changes in the rat’s normal physiological processes of sweets. In addition to this, the presence of constant artificial sweeteners in the diet means you’re never really letting your taste buds get a break from the sweet taste you love. The more you drink diet soda, the longer you’ll remain trapped in the sugar cycle and continue to crave.” 

Artificial Sweetener Cheat Sheet

Artificial sweeteners come under a variety of different types and brand names, which makes them one of the many confusing aspects of packaged foods.

"Sugar Free" Does Not Equal Healthy from 100 Days of #RealFood #sugarfree
These generic versions are the five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners currently on the market.

Note: Stevia is sometimes classified as an artificial sweetener, but it’s actually derived from the stevia plant. However, it is often sold in a highly processed (powdery white) form, so it is not something we personally use or recommend.

Tell the FDA

Did you know that you can report adverse reactions or other problems associated with FDA-regulated food products? I am not sure how much it really helps, but it certainly can’t hurt. Find the correct number for your state on the FDA website. Be sure to let them know if you or someone you know has had trouble with artificial sweeteners and/or artificial food dyes.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about artificial additives in the comments below.

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186 thoughts on ““Sugar Free” Does Not Equal Healthy (and more startling facts about artificial sweeteners)”

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  1. Artificial sweeteners ‘BAD.’ Sugar ‘good.’ “NUTS” I noticed absolutely nothing on ‘raw sugar,’ which is NOT refined or processed with ‘ahem’ Chemicals..Somehow, that does not surprise me. All this put down on artificial sweeteners, once again putting down some excellent products that aren’t on your hit list. Agree with the FDA..Have you lost your minds. The FDA, and every man and woman who works for them, have sold their minds, bodies and souls to the American Pharmaceutical corporations, the most greediest, corrupt, PIGS who would sell prescription drugs that are often not tested..Only most testing is done when ‘too’ many lives have been lost, and not before. Amazing how they test their drugs, ALWAYS too late to save those lives..Trust the most wealthiest, as in the TRILLIONS in profits EVERY year..NO THANK YOU..Those same drugs they sell in the states can also be purchased in Canada at 40% cheaper..In Mexico, 80% cheaper..But the lousy Americans that they are, steal it from American citizens because we either have insurance or can afford it..American Pharmaceutical corporations are manned by INhuman parasites, and we ALL know what parasites are – don’t we now…

    1. If you think about what occurs in nature, without our interference, you have things like fruit, sugar cane (or stevia leaves) and honey. Fruit has fiber and other nutrients, which makes us full or will increase the speed of digestion. You can drink way more apple juice than you could eat apples. Honey would be a rare treat in nature, and contains natural antibiotics and other minerals. Sugar cane and stevia not being concentrated also would provide marginal sugar concentrations with other beneficial nutrients. We are finally starting to see the correlation with obesity, diabeties and increasing sugar content in all foods. We are also seeing how sugar feeds cancer. Almost like any drug, sugar and sugar substitutes spike our levels and create a “high”. And it really is addictive. Unfortunately the sugar substitutes are even worse than the sugar itself, yet these are what diabetic patients were advised to eat rather than real sugar – not knowing how much it was affecting their insulin levels. I, just as most americans, have a suar additiction, and there is no easy out. It is both expensive and difficult to eat whole nutrious foods, with the plethora of processed and sugar injected foods available in the supermarket. You have to ween you additiction, and unfortunately every holiday is associated with a sweet treat. Easter, Christmas, Halloween, Valentines Day….. Food companies want us to remain addicted, becuase sugar and artificial sweeteners dont satiate us, and so we want more and more…which means more profit. Solution is only to avoid any sugar and other than what occurs naturally, with honey and carb foods (which is process by your body similarly to sugar) in strict moderation as well. Just like any addiction, you are going to have in rough at first, but as long as you foods are balanced and wholesome your cravings for sugar will eventually be minimal. I wont say disappear because you will always have to fight the temptation that is everywhere around you.

      1. I also wanted to mention that my aunt was diagnosed with cancer. It was caught early, but they still suggested chemo or radiation. She refused, and instead went on a very strict holistic diet, which cut out any form of sugar. Needless to say, her cancer is in remission. There is way more to our diets than the medical industry is giving credit, and know for a fact from talking to doctors and students how little emphasis diet & nutrition is placed in medical education and practice. Hopefully that is changing, but when it comes to treatments of disease – there is little profit to make from someone helping to treat themselves by managing their own health, rather than relying on pills or invasive medical treatments. Is our medical system really set up to help us, or to keep us dependent on “easy” solutions like drugs to cover our symptoms or create new complications that require more drugs and treatments? We our taught that the easy way is the best way, so thats what we demand, and eventually we pay in the end.