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One of the first things we target in the hunt for a slimmer waistline is processed sugar—and there’s plenty of it at this time of year: gingerbread cookies, eggnog…your mother-in-law’s diet-destroying pecan pie.

The easy fix? Artificial sweeteners.

Let’s admit it. It’s ridiculously gratifying to look at the nutrition facts on your favorite soda and see an innocent little ‘0’ next to ‘calories.’ Maybe you can even negate your constant craving for sugar by guzzling a diet Mountain Dew before you encounter that devastating pecan pie. And the festive peppermint mocha you’ve just picked up on the way to work won’t be so bad. You’ll just order sugar free.

Well, as you might have guessed, most artificial sweeteners just aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. In fact, some of them are just downright malevolent…and they’ve got quite the vice grip on the American diet.

Two years ago, an issue of Dr. Mark Stengler’s Health Revelations revealed that artificial sweeteners sprinkled throughout our foods (many of them not even labelled ‘diet’ or ‘sugar-free’) delivered the sweetening equivalent of twenty-six pounds of sugar for every single American man, woman, and child. What’s worse—these sugar copy cats are so ubiquitous that even if you ate absolutely no diet-labelled or processed foods for an entire week, you’d probably still be taking in a pretty healthy dose of artificial sweeteners. How is that possible? Toothpaste. Yes, there are even artificial sweeteners in the stuff that keeps your mouth clean. Everything considered, that’s enough to make even the sweetest of teeth run screaming.

It seems that if artificial sugars weren’t 100% safe, they simply wouldn’t be such a pervasive part of the American diet. And it’s true—some quite popular artificial sweeteners are thought to be perfectly innocuous. Truvia, for example, is thought to be just fine. Made from highly purified stevia leaf extract, the product was declared safe in the early 2000’s. While stevia was initially believed to have negative impacts on blood sugar, sperm count, and the functioning of the kidneys and heart, the FDA has voiced no concerns since highly purified extracts of the leaf were put into production. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

The same can’t be said for a lot of other artificial sweeteners, though. Take the well-known Aspartame. The most infamous of the infamous, consider it the Grinch to your healthy holiday Whoville. As the October issue of Nutrition Action Health Letter points out, three separate studies show that the sugar substitute caused cancer in rats and mice. A human study of Aspartame concluded that drinking one or more diet sodas a day coincided with an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In men, the habit was linked to an increased risk of multiple myeloma cancer. Need more convincing? A Danish study in 2010 linked diet soda with premature birth. While this particular study needs confirmation with additional research in the area, consider this: despite the shady reputation Aspartame has worked up for itself over the years, this sweetener alone is used in over 6,000 products and consumed by more than 200 million people around the world.

In a nation where ten percent of children become obese when they’re barely toddlers, cutting the calories and sugar that you and your family consume everyday can feel like a huge undertaking. It really is tempting to reach for that zero-calorie diet soda and call it a day, but as you move into the season of diet-destroying pecan pies and confront your personal weight-loss goals in the New Year, stay informed about just what it is that’s behind the innocent ‘0’ on your soda can. Sometimes…a lot of calories is better than none!

 

*Results may vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as typical. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.