If it’s not bad for you… is it good for you?

If I gave you something to eat and told you it was safe, despite decades of USDA research linking it to destroying brain neurons and elevating your risk for dementia, stroke, seizures, premature birth, heart disorders and diseases, and cancer, would you eat it? Probably not.

But what if it was really delicious? And the packaging was cool? And it only cost 99 cents? Then your answer might be yes.

The truth is, every day millions of Americans say yes in this scenario. Granted, most of them probably don’t know exactly what they’re saying yes to. I’ve been talking about aspartame, a substance that is completely legal, FDA-approved since the mid 1970′s, and served to school children daily. 

It’s scary– and really confusing. Everyone who profits from aspartame has a vested interest in making people believe it’s safe, and they’ve gone pretty far to do that. (Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ve gone as far as actually making the substance safe.) Try googling “is aspartame safe?” and you will get almost 2 million results. Wikipedia has an entire page devoted to the “Aspartame Controversy.” 

Americans tend to function under the pretense, “If it’s not bad for you… it must be good for you.” This is patently untrue. Let’s start with the most obvious example: smoking. Smoking one cigarette will not make you drop dead on the spot. Smoking 200 may not make you drop dead. Smoking a pack a day for 30 years may not kill you, and heck, it may not even lead to lung cancer. But does that mean smoking is good for you? Certainly not.

Similarly, a tablespoon of aspartame won’t kill anyone. Drinking 200 cans of diet soda sweetened with aspartame may not kill you, and ingesting the stuff daily for 30 years may not directly lead to death, cancer, seizures, strokes, nor any of that other scary stuff. But is it good for you?

I’m going to say no. And I don’t see any point in eating aspartame, since it’s linked to weight gain and some studies show that it actually does raise blood sugar levels, contrary to popular belief, and may increase your risk for Type 2 Diabetes.

Now, let’s step back and remember that studies aren’t perfect: they can be misleading or misinterpreted, data can be manipulated to suit a bias, etc. You can see that as a reason to assume you’ll be fine and ignore all the studies, or you can ask yourself this: Are there also scores of studies saying aspartame does good things for your health? The answer is no. And that probably tells you something.

The bottom line here is that, as I’ve written before, consuming added sweeteners is just not good for you. Some of them may hold health benefits, like local honey as an aid for managing allergies, but for the most part sweeteners have us playing a game where we decide between the lesser of many evils.

So what’s the answer?

  1. Quit added sugars & substitutes cold turkey! Check out my post, Breaking Up With Sugar, or head over to see what Sarah Wilson, of “I Quit Sugar”-fame, has written on the subject.
  2. Avoid added sweeteners whenever possible.
  3. Consider honey, which has some health benefits, like antioxidants and, for example, soothing your throat when you’re sick (although there are other things that can serve these purposes as well). 
  4. Try to forego the worst offenders, like artificial sweeteners, and instead opt for the sugar alternatives that are less processed and have minimal impact on blood-glucose levels, like muscovado. Read my post about sugar alternatives here.

Read more about aspartame:
What’s So Bad About Diet Soda? Diabetes Mine
Study: Drinking diet soda actually causes weight gain, blood sugar spikes. Natural Health News

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