The Scoop on Sugar Substitutes
Think you’re doing the right thing by drinking diet soda instead of regular?  The bad news is diet soda boasts some serious downsides. Sugar-free substitutes, like aspartame, Splenda and Stevia can actually harm you and your diet more than you realize.


Found in more than 6000 foods in the U.S., aspartame is considered one of the worst food additives by many health experts. The product was unapproved by the FDA until 1980 and some researchers believe it may be linked to chronic illnesses. “Aspartame is a neurotoxin, meaning it’s a chemical that kills brain cells, as well as other neurons throughout the body,” explains Dr. Elizabeth Graves, D.C., Chiropractic Director of Chiro One Wellness Center of the South Loop.

Sugar substitutes: Splenda and Stevia

Stored Chemical

On the market since 1999, Splenda is another sugar substitute Dr. Liz urges us to avoid. “Splenda is a sugar molecule with an attached chlorine molecule, which your body doesn’t know how to get rid of,” she explains. “Toxins and chemicals the body can’t process are normally stored in the body's favorite place—your fat cells. This makes your body less able to burn fat for energy.” 

Consume in Moderation

Dr. Liz says Stevia is a natural plant-based sweetener that may be a safe choice in moderation. Stevia-based brands such as Truvia and PureVia are made of a purified extract of Stevia called Rebaudioside A which is 200 times sweeter than sugar and does not raise blood sugar. “But be careful because many Stevia products contain other unnatural chemicals to change the taste of this slightly bitter sweetener,” says Dr. Liz. “That turns this natural alternative into an unhealthy one.”  

Weight Gain, Not Loss

A recent Purdue study shows rats who consumed food sweetened with saccharin ate more, gained more weight and added more body fat. Artificial sweeteners hinder your body’s natural hunger regulation system. When you feed it empty calories that lack nutritional content, your body fights to be satiated. You’ll keep craving and eating until that happens. In essence, calorie-free foods lead to eating more calories. “Artificial sweeteners will NOT trick your body into thinking it has had its fill,” Dr. Liz explains. “Instead, they increase sweet cravings because your body didn't get the energy boost it was expecting from that sweet taste.”

Prepare & Make New Choices

To reduce sugar substitutes in our diets, Dr. Liz recommends doing some prep work before meals. “Have a sweetener you’re comfortable using on hand so you’re not at the mercy of what’s available commercially,” she says.  “With your everyday diet choices, realize that your body does not need sugar and decreasing it will help to reduce inflammation and the chance of chronic illness.” If you do need a little extra sweetness, opt for natural cane sugar in moderation. And keep making the choice to be healthier today than you were yesterday.