Fake Sweet, Real Concerns

by | Mar 7, 2019 | Diet & Nutrition

packets of artificial sweetenersDid you see the recent Mercola article on “the latest ‘diet’ fad,” fortified artificial sweeteners? It was a good article, but adding vitamins and other “healthy” ingredients to fake sweeteners is nothing new.

Back in 2011, the product was Splenda Essentials. Three varieties were put on the market: sucralose with B vitamins, with antioxidants, and with fiber. Health claims on the packaging and product website prompted a lawsuit.

But now here we are with Merisant – the company that makes Equal – rolling out its own line of “healthy” aspartame under the brand name Equal Plus. They, too, offer three formulations: vitamin C and zinc, “with antioxidants” (vitamins C and E), and “with B vitamins” (B3, B5, and B12).

They also capitalize on the health halo that added vitamins can cast. Here’s what they have to say about the antioxidant variety:

Equal PLUS with antioxidant vitamins C & E delivers 10% daily value of vitamins C & E, which can help support a healthy immune system.

Ooh! Healthy! Well, at least if you ignore the potential negative impact that the aspartame may have on immune function.

But this isn’t about health. It’s about marketing. As Merisant’s director of North American marketing explained to Food Navigator, their aim is “expanding the consumer base of Equal.”

Health halos help sell product.

Meanwhile, research continues to show that artificial sweeteners bring their own risks.

A study just published in Stroke is the largest so far linking the consumption of artificially sweetened beverages (ASBs) with a higher risk of some kinds of stroke.

Over 81,000 postmenopausal women participated in the study. Those who drank just two ASBs a day showed a significantly higher risk of stroke, as well as coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality.

Other studies have linked drinking ASBs with a higher risk of dementia and metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. They appear to alter gut bacteria. They may even affect how we taste sweetness, so may negatively influence our relationship to naturally sweet foods.

Safer Alternatives? Better Alternatives?

Not all zero-calorie sweeteners are created equal (pardon the pun). For instance, sugar alcohols such as xylitol and erythritol don’t appear to raise blood sugar levels or contribute to insulin resistance, and may even have a positive effect on dental health.

Less processed sugar substitutes include stevia and monk fruit, both of which are derived from plants.

Stevia is roughly 200 times sweeter than sugar, so a little goes a long way. It also tends to provide the same level of satiety as sugar, so people tend not to eat more to compensate for the fewer calories.

Monk fruit has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries. Now it’s used in the West to sweeten food and beverages. It appears to have some anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, as well.

Of course, using natural sugars such as honey, maple syrup, or agave in moderation is another way to satisfy your sweet tooth. Or better yet, eat your favorite fruits for the ultimate natural sweet treat.

Image by Clay Junell

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