PDF OF THIS ARTICLE! Natural Sugar vs. Artificial Sugar
The choices we make daily dictate the health our body is in. The eerie thing about it is that some of the “healthy” choices we make may not be as healthy as you think. Think about this: when you wake up in the morning after a late night, grumpy, sleepy, and dazed, you drag your feet to the bathroom and slap on some toothpaste on your toothbrush and scrub away. You wash your face, hoping to magically awaken, but that doesn’t work. You then turn to the biggest pick-me-up that men and women have been using for thousands of years, coffee. It’s that go-ahead drug that allows you to start your day and get it going. Now when making your coffee, which do you decide to use? Natural sugar or artificial sweetener? Which do you think is healthier? Well if you are certain of an answer, guess again.
The fact that we as a society believe in the artificially-goodness we call “NutraSweet” or “Equal” to be a much healthier option than regular sugar is not only misguided, but may contain ingredients that are a long-term root for numerous diseases and cancer. In this blog, I’m going to explain the difference in how natural sugar and artificial sugar work in your body, but also provide evidence as to why artificial sugar is not as healthy of an option as you think.
Why Natural Sugar is Bad
First off, let me tell you some reasons that sugar is bad for you, some of which you may know and others that you may not. Sugar is high in calories and is not filling at all. This is why we love to eat sugary substances and can hardly keep ourselves from taking one more bite out of that enticing chocolate bar. It actually suppresses some hormones, for example Human Growth Hormone, whose loss can actually stunt your growth. Sugar also is known to suppress the immune system, and so when you consistently eat sugar, your body is constantly at a disadvantage against invaders. Another reason why sugar is bad for you is because it promotes excessive inflammation. While inflammation in some cases is necessary and good to promote blood flow to damaged regions, excessive inflammation is actually shown to result in aging and disease. The last and most popular reason why sugar is unhealthy is due to the fact that sugar raises insulin levels. Every time you eat sugar, the body requires more and more insulin, just like developing tolerance to any drug (alcohol). This rise in insulin levels can actually cause what we call insulin-dependent diabetes.
Why Artificial Sugar is Bad
Now that we know the negative aspects of natural sugar, let us delve into artificial sugar. The most commonly used artificial sweetener is known as Aspartame. It has captured over 50% of the artificial sugar market since introduced in 1981 and can be found in more than 5000 products. The largest consumer is not surprisingly, the United States, where it has become the staple sugar for diet-crazed individuals (1). Some of the most commonly found products may contain aspartame, in places where you may be surprised. It can be found in toothpaste, mouthwash, cough drops, chewing gum, mouthwash, and in most foods labeled sugar-free or “diet.” Fact is, “diet” is a misnomer. Recent studies have suggested that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame actually may cause people to eat more of these “non-sugar” items which can be even more detrimental to dieters than natural sugar. With natural sugar, our bodies actually reach a threshold and tell us to stop, but by associating artificial sweeteners with “healthy” we tend to exploit the “sugar-free” foods around us. Aspartame may interfere with the body’s natural ability to “count calories” just like some drugs interfere with the body’s ability to control serotonin and dopamine levels, essentially causing the “withdrawal” avid drug users face. The reason for this interference is due to two reasons. Aspartame contains phenylalanine, which causes insulin to be released and causing hunger. Although most of the sweetener passes right through your system similar to the way we can’t digest cellulose (grass), artificial sweeteners yields 10% methanol which spreads to different regions of the brain, muscle, nervous tissue, and fat (2). It then is metabolized to formaldehyde which binds to intracellular proteins and DNA (3). Formaldehyde causes DNA damage (4) and causes the cross-linked genetic material to break and re-form, introducing the chance for mutations and possibly cancer (5). Aspartame’s chemical cousins, saccharin and cyclamate, have been linked to bladder cancer in laboratory mice and rats (6).
So what should you do?
Although some research has shown connections between Alzheimer’s disease, brain tumors, and nervous disorders and the use of aspartame, the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association approve of their use by diabetics and for weight control. Organizations such as these released the following:
“All consumer complaints related to the sweetener [aspartame] have been investigated as thoroughly as possible by federal authorities for more than five years, in part under FDA’s Adverse Reaction Monitoring System. In addition, scientific studies conducted during aspartame’s pre-approval phase failed to show that it causes any adverse reactions in adults or children.”
As a result of my findings and inconclusive findings about the true effects of artificial sweeteners, I would use natural sugar but just as any guilty pleasure, it should be in moderation. Moderate consumption of natural sugar will not raise your insulin levels long-term. Until more support is found for the fact that aspartame causes these long-term ill effects, I would use artificial sweeteners sparingly, but decreasingly sparingly if you are in dire need to control your diabetes or weight.
- Barua J, Bal A. 1995. Emerging Facts about Aspartame. Journal of the Diabetic Association of India Vol. 35, No. 4.
- Blaylock RL. 1997. Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills. Health Press.
- Trocho C, Pardo R, Rafecas I, Virgili J, Remesar X, Fernandez-Lopez JA, Alemany M. 1998. Formaldehyde derived from dietary aspartame binds to tissue components in vivo. Life Sciences 63(5):337-349.
- Ross WE, McMillan DR, Ross CF. 1981. Comparison of DNA damage by methylmelamines and formaldehyde. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 67:217-221.
- Shaham D, Bornstein Y, Meltzer A, Kaufman Z, Palma E, Ribak J. 1996. DNA-protein crosslinks, a biomarker of exposure to formaldehyde – in vitro and in vivo studies. Carcinogenesis 17:121-126.
- Hicks RM, ST J, Wakefield J, Chowaniec J. 1973. Co-carcinogenic action of saccharin in the chemical induction of bladder cancer. Nature 243: 347-349.