So far on this blog I have written a lot about food, supplements and diets that I have found help create optimal health and reduce stress and anxiety. Today I want to tell you about my experience with something that I’ve found to do the opposite - artificial sweeteners.
You may be confused about artificial sweeteners due to the plethora of conflicting information out there on the topic. Some say they’re fine, and some say they’re harmful. And as frequently happens, each study seemingly proves different results.
Artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, sucralose and saccharine, are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. and are approved for consumption. According to the FDA and the National Cancer Institute, “studies of these sweeteners have not provided clear evidence of an association with cancer in humans.” However, the short story is that when consumed in large quantities, these substances do cause cancer in animals. (Click here to read more). And cancer aside, these sweeteners have proven to cause many other side effects, including headaches, aggravated PMS symptoms, dizziness, moodiness, fatigue, chance in vision, diarrhea and anxiety. Aspartame in particular is thought to be an “excitotoxin,” a compound that can damage nerve cells by overstimulating them, and some studies suggest that this can cause neurological disorders.
And even though there are no studies that show that artificial sweeteners aid in weight loss (in fact, the opposite is true, as they have been linked to obesity), and they have a bitter, off taste, they are in many of the products most Americans consume. And because they can taste up to 600 times sweeter than sugar (for all of you foodies reading this) they are throwing off our palates and making us crave more of exactly what we’re trying to avoid – sugar. Some studies even show that they can stimulate appetite.
So what do I think? I am not a doctor, or a researcher with a grant for a study. But I am an average woman who, like the rest of us, gets stressed and craves sweet things from time to time (who doesn’t?) Years ago, I was addicted to Diet Coke. I’d have two or three a day, and would frequently consume other products that contained artificial sweeteners like light yogurt and different types of cereal. I’d also put whatever I had on hand – Equal, Splenda, Sweet-n-Low, in my tea and coffee almost every morning and every night. A few years ago, I read about the potential link between artificial sweeteners and anxiety, and in addition to the research that has been conducted on sugar substitutes and cancer, it was enough to make me want to give it up. I used to always suffer from horrible nightmares at night, and although I still get stressed and anxious from time to time, I was shocked when my nightmares disappeared entirely after giving up the sweeteners!
This month has been a particularly stressful month, and like the best of us, I had a few slip ups. It was extremely hot outside and there was no water at the event I was attending. There was a Diet Sprite, and although I knew this would dehydrate me more, it looked so nice and cold that I grabbed it and took a few sips. Why do we do eat things when we know they will have adverse effects? Then I got the “might as wells.” I figured I had a Diet Sprite, so I “might as well” add a Splenda to my unsweetened iced tea. And then I had the iced tea, and figured I “might as well” have a low-fat yogurt. And so on… Long story short, I had horribly vivid nightmares all week! I will not tell you what they were about so you don’t influence your dreams (one involved a knife, and the other, the Ben Franklin Bridge and a shark! At least I have some Spielberg creativity in my subconscious somewhere…). And I have felt irritable, stressed out and nervous like I used to for the past few days.
I do believe that everything affects everyone differently, so you may have a different experience. But in short, be wary of these sweeteners if you have trouble with stress, anxiety or nightmares. And because I never like to say that you should have “none” of something, if you are trying to avoid sugar and must use a substitute, a great alternative is stevia, which comes from an herb in the chrysanthemum family and has been used around the world for centuries to sweeten tea and other food.
But in general, I think I am going to stick to the real thing from now on. Honey, raw sugar and agave nectar are all great options. Life should be as sweet as tupelo honey, right?
Want an even better way to reduce sweet cravings? I’m offering complementary initial one-hour health consultations to readers of my blog throughout the summer! Send me an email and I’d be happy to tell you all about how I really beat sugar cravings and how you can, too.