Is “Sugar-Free” a Danger to Your Health?

For many working toward weight-loss goals, choosing sugar-free foods and drinks would seem right. But did you know that anything labeled “diet” is loaded with artificial sweeteners, which have the potential to do more harm than good? “The only benefit to ‘sugar-free’ food is if it is really devoid of both sugar and artificial sugar,” says Dr. Zina Kroner, who practices at Advanced Medicine of New York, PLLC. Here, why sugar-free shouldn’t be a staple in any diet.

A Dangerous Diet Tool: Reaching for a diet soda or sugar-free cookie can actually have the opposite effect when you’re trying to lose weight. “One will gain weight on artificial sugars made in a lab, as they can worsen insulin resistance,” says Dr. Kroner. Insulin resistance can contribute to serious health concerns, including obesity.

Health Issues: Aspartame, which contains the toxins phenylalanine and aspartic acid, has been linked to side effects such as headaches, migraines, dizziness, depression and visual changes, says Dr. Kroner. For Latinas with diabetes, which is on the incline, sugar substitutes can worsen the disease. “Phenylalanine and aspartic acid have been shown to stimulate the release of insulin and leptin, leading to insulin resistance and worsening of blood sugar control,” says Dr. Kroner. “With diabetes, the goal is to improve insulin sensitivity.”

Alternate Options: If you’re still looking for a secret ingredient for weight loss, Dr. Kroner recommends stevia, a plant that has been around for 1,500 years and is considered the safest sugar alternative. Stevia can be used to sweeten recipes such as hot cocoa, banana bread and chocolate chip cookies -- without harmful side effects. Or, try foods made with healthier sweet ingredients such as Greek yogurt, applesauce or honey. For soda junkies out there, the safer alternative is regular -- in moderation. Or, try flavored water or flavored seltzer for a sweet, carbonated kick.

by Lauren Fischer