Most people — especially athletes — tend to think they're following good plans, solid advice, and helpful guidelines in order to make the most out of life, nutrition, and training. What we may not realize is that, by doing so, we may be missing dangers that are hiding in plain sight that can derail training progress and, more importantly, overall health. A primary example of this behavior is completely cutting out sugar intake, but replacing it with artificial sweeteners that are likely doing us more harm than good.
Scientific testing and a list of what is banned by the Food and Drug Administration can quickly tell you whether a "diet" product may really be poison in disguise. And, beware of larger serving sizes that have not yet been evaluated for safety.
What Are Artificial Sweeteners?
A brief history of artificial sweeteners is simple to provide, and usually pretty shocking to most who hear it. Since the 1950s, artificial sweeteners have attempted to provide an alternative to sugar products that are causing weight gain, and have been marketed as a way to provide a diet-based alternative to big, bad sugar. The truth is, sugar is not good for you, but avoiding it — only to "replace" it with an artificial sweetener with possible hidden health issues — is likely not the answer, either.
Many recovery drinks and "health" and training products are loaded with these artificial sweeteners, and they are starting to take their toll on those who ingest large amounts of them. Here is what you need to know about the hidden dangers of artificial sweeteners, and what you can do to educate yourself about how to work around them.
Addicted to Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners (and natural sweeteners like sugar) become a trap within themselves. An addiction can be created because the body and mind begin to believe that much sweeter things are required (due to an impact of the taste buds), which means that you are never satisfied and require more and more to achieve satisfaction. It actually will make you eat more and more if you are not careful. This spiral can cause major issues such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity, kidney issues, digestive issues, and more.
Your metabolism can also be adversely impacted because you are increasing your possibility for glucose intolerance, which can interfere with your metabolic function. This comes from constant consumption of artificially sweetened no-calorie substances.
Is There a Good Artificial Sweetener?
The simple answer is no. Aspartame, Sorbitol, Xylitol, Sucralose, and many others should be avoided if possible. They are not banned items; however, they are proven to cause issues. Consider the older Sweet'N Low, which used Saccharin and was a large-use product in the 1970s. It was required to post a warning label: "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health." Saccharin has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Why would we think for a second that any other scientifically created product would be much different than this one?
The purpose of this article is not to debate which ones are better or worse, or more or less dangerous. The purpose of this article is to highlight that artificial sweeteners, when not used in moderation, can cause issues that you may believe are not related to the intake of these products. Constant digestive issues may send you to the doctor over and over again, with no solution, only to find that it’s from artificial sweetener use. You may have found that the nicotine replacement gum that helped you stop smoking is loaded with artificial sweeteners that are causing tachycardia, nausea, anxiety, and more. You may not link it to the sweetener use. The goal of this article is awareness — I want Spartans to be aware of what can happen, and what the best solutions are.
What Are the Best Alternatives?
Natural sweetness from food will always be your best option. For example, watermelon is naturally sweet and it's loaded with amazing health benefits. Unfortunately, if you are dependent on artificial sweeteners, you have a major obstacle to overcome, but it can be done. Discipline and motivation will be your allies on this journey. Stevia is a good option, as well as honey.
Cinnamon is another good alternative to use. Moderation is the key to success here. Having sugar, an artificial sweetener once in a while, and/or selecting natural sweetness in fruit is OK as long as it fits into your dietary requirements, does not impact your blood sugar negatively, and is consumed during earlier portions of your day. The minute you go overboard and through that balance off, you will be at risk of falling deeper into the hole, and it’s hard to dig out of it.
Be Aware and, As Always, Try Your Best
We can’t always be 100 percent certain that we're eating the right things, but we should be conscious of what is on the label. There are also hidden items you may not be aware of. Toothpaste and mouthwash, for example, are commonly loaded with artificial sweeteners. Cough medicines and other types of liquids are also "flavored." There is a ton to consider, but if you are aware, you may be able to limit the intake. Be aware, read labels, consider how you feel, and take into account what may be impacting you. Know that there are reasons why you may be overusing things, due to addictions you may not realize.
Understand that moderation is the key to success, no matter what you do with nutrition and dietary requirements. Most of all … this is a battle, and as Spartans we can win it. Stay aware, and for more information— or if you require help — see your physician to learn more about your own situation if you have a concern.