Sweet Substitutes: The Effects of Artificial Sweeteners

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Bryan Jarboe--At the end of the day, it is better to have the real deal.

Aspartame, like high fructose corn syrup, is artificial sugar. It is a commonly used artificial sweetener made up of chemicals. Amino acids, found in artificial sweetener, are also found naturally in many foods eaten today. The question is; is it healthier than real sugar? 

One rumor surrounding aspartame is that it causes cancer. The American Cancer Society has done many research studies to find if aspartame really causes cancer or not. Results showed no link between aspartame and cancer. However, aspartame has been known to cause other health problems.

Associate Professor of Kinesiology Jan Kodat listed a few of those, “Abdominal pains, anxiety attacks, arthritis, asthma, chest pains, depression, dizziness, fatigue, hearing loss and heart palpitations.”

Aspartame causes the body to over produce insulin because aspartame is 200 times sweeter than natural sugar. When the body tastes something that sweet it begins to produce insulin right away and blood sugar levels as well as insulin become confused because there is actually no real sugar in the body.

“Insulin is regulated through sugar in the body. If you take in too much sugar, the pancreas stimulates insulin to be released and then insulin takes a lot of that blood sugar out because it wants a balance,” Kodat said. “But if you do it too many times too much will be taken out and you will have low blood sugar and it will cause the insulin to not work correctly.”

Aspartame may also cause overeating because the body believes it is eating a lot of calories when in reality it is not. “Up to 90 minutes after eating something containing aspartame the body can feel triggered to eat more even though they are saving the calories with artificial sweetener,” Kodat said.

Sugar is made up of glucose and depending on what type of glucose, whether it is carbohydrates, protein or sugar, the body breaks it down in different ways. The body will take usable glucose to different places in the body and if there is too much glucose the body will store it as fat.

Aspartame is made up of chemicals and when they enter the body they are split up and broken down depending on how each body breaks down these separate chemicals. Every body processes these chemicals differently so it is not easy to say how each breaks down in the body.

“You really need to be good at reading labels. There are so many things that contain aspartame or artificial sweetener,” Kodat said.

Natural sugar may be better because the body knows how to break it down. As with everything, too much sugar will cause problems because it may be stored as fat if there is too much. However, eating too much aspartame can cause the body to crave more food, thus, overeating.

“God designed our bodies in a phenomenal way. Too much of anything is a problem,” Kodat said. “We find that we can handle a little bit of many things and it is not a bad idea to cut back on both sugar and artificial sweeteners.”

Moderation is key when eating any form of sugar as both can cause problems down the line. If you would like to avoid aspartame, check ingredient labels when purchasing food. Check for common artificial sweeteners such as Sweet-N-Low, Equal or Splenda.