Refined sugars are some of the worst perpetrators that can play into routinely unhealthy eating habits. They’re an “enhanced” form of raw sugar, simply lacking any nutritional value and full of “empty calories” that have a negative effect on nearly every part of the body. Unfortunately, they’re present in nearly every bit of packaged food we consume, and extremely prevalent in sugary beverages like soda and juice. If you think you can skate your way around these toxins by dumping packets of Splenda into your coffee every morning, snacking on sugar-free pudding, and guzzling down Diet Pepsi . . . think again. While these may sound like viable options due to their low-carb, zero-calorie qualities, their artificial sweetening ingredients can do a lot more harm than good for your body.
The sucralose and aspartame present in most sugar-free products can harm your body’s defense mechanisms that prevent the growth of disease-causing organisms in the intestines, making you more prone to illness. Some studies have shown an increase in the risk of colorectal cancer that correlates with increased sucralose intake, and a decrease in the size of the thymus – an organ vital to immune system function and white blood cell production – has also been noted as a result of sucralose consumption. Aspartame itself can lead to a number of negative side effects including sleep disturbances, headaches, and even mood swings. While it is FDA-approved, aspartame has been questionably linked to cancer in past studies. If nothing else, artificial sweeteners lead to addiction and increased cravings; though you may think you’re eliminating sweets, you’re really just teasing your body into tasting “fake” sweetness and wanting more.
So what can you do? The obvious first step is to limit consumption of packaged foods and artificial beverages altogether. Replacing all sodas – yes, even diet ones – with water, eating fresh fruits instead of canned ones, and striving for more whole grain wheat breads instead of white are all great options. But not everyone can eat 100% natural, 100% of the time . . . or can they? Next time you’re craving a soda or want to add a sweet splash to your coffee, why not try a form of Stevia? It’s almost too good to be true. Stevia is a totally natural herb leaf that is known to be up to 300 times as sweet as sugar itself, and it’s calorie-free! It has a positive effect on blood glucose levels too, so it’s great for sustaining energy throughout the day and avoiding blood sugar spikes that lead you to get a sugar high and subsequently crash. Plus, it comes in several different forms – you can buy packets of stevia (great for throwing in your purse to use at your next coffee date), a bottle of liquid stevia (just a couple drops will do the trick), or you can try a number of different stevia-sweetened products, like Zevia – an all-natural soda sweetened only with Stevia! These products can be found in the organic section of grocery stores; Wegmans has a wide selection. Turns out you really can live the sweet life – next time you hit the grocery aisle, nix the sugar and sucralose, and check out stevia!