Artificial sweeteners and I go way back.

To the days when I subconsciously picked up messages and values from my parents.  I learned long ago to value “the pink stuff.”  It started with diet soda.  (Or, as my parents called it when I was growing up outside of Boston:  “tonic.”)  That’s the only kind we had in the house.  It was never about calories and dieting.  (Remember me sharing my Devil Dog story?  I was a skinny kid with no food issues.)  But those were the days when the message was about not rotting our teeth by drinking the sugary stuff.  Teeth rot = bad.  Artificial sweetener = good.

Then, in the early 70s, a crisis rocked our house.  Suddenly it appeared that saccharin, the artificial sweetener d’jour, might cause cancer.  Panic ensued.  Most people tossed their Sweet & Low rather than take the risk.  But not us.  My mother took the opposite approach and began stockpiling.  What would we do if they took it off the market!?  Cancer shmancer.

Fast forward to the blue packets and the yellow packets.  So many choices of artificial sweetener to choose from.  And then someone came up with a version that could be used in cooking.  Sugar-free foods were popping up everywhere on the grocer’s shelves.  And I was buying them.  And ignoring the little whispers that maybe the fake stuff wasn’t so good for us.  I was no longer the skinny kid who could eat anything.  Calories = bad.  Artificial sweeteners = good.

I know that there are a lot of people who don’t use sweeteners for a variety of reasons.  And I respect each and every one.  But I happily kept my head in the sand anytime I heard any buzz that sweeteners might be bad for me or might, heaven forbid, actually cause weight gain, exactly what I am trying to avoid by using them.  But the experts are mixed in their opinions and there clearly isn’t enough evidence to convince the government to take sweeteners off the market.

So, for me personally, artificial sweeteners were a part of life and common place in my day to day.  Maybe they are bad for me; maybe not.  Maybe they are better than the sugar I might ingest in their place.  Or agave nectar.  Or honey.  Or…  But this post isn’t intended to debate the merits and risks of artificial sweeteners.  I’m not a nutritionist or a scientist or any other type of expert “ist.”

But I am a thinker.  And sometimes an over-thinker.  And lately I had been thinking that maybe the many, many servings of sweeteners I was ingesting daily might not be doing me any favors.  And maybe I was becoming a little too accustomed to the taste of something sweet throughout the day.  And maybe I should see what would happen if I tried to go without.  Just for a day.

To be continued…

Do you have an opinion about sweeteners in your life, artificial or otherwise?

Special thanks to blogging friend, Ellen, and 3fatchicks forum friend, Heidi, for inspiring my little experiment.



Filed under food, history (my past), making a change

70 responses to “Splenda-iferous

  1. Miz

    the little pink packets will forever remind me of my childhood.
    My mom didnt use them much—BUT they were labeled NOT FOR PEOPLE UNDER 18!!

    as was the Tab bottle in the fridge.

    That got into my head, at an impressionable age, the notion they mightcould not be great for me.

    That said I do splenda in my coffee sometimes when Im out.

    I love it.
    I just try not to BUY it.



    • Karen

      I remember Tab! Drank lots in college until I gave up caffeine. Just think, you were so impacted by your childhood messages and you are doing the same, in such a great, healthy way, for your own daughter:)

  2. I remember Tab as the first diet cola. My mother-in-law drank that instead of water. She bought it by the case. I never saw her drink water or anything else. She developed pancreatic cancer. I always wondered if the Tab contributed to that. Maybe, maybe not. I guess we’ll never know. I do know my sister-in-law went to the doctor because she thought she might be pregnant – her periods had stopped. Her doctor told her that her periods had stopped because of the diet drinks.

    • Karen

      I drank Tab too. Never heard of the period thing! I do know that when I was pregnant with my kids I did stop sweeteners during that time.

  3. OK kiddo, I was born in a hospital in Boston but lived outside Boston too! Where did you live???

    I remember the word tonic as well & good ole Tab!!!

    I stopped using the pink stuff a long time ago & moved to the blue & then the yellow… & now I use the yellow & stevia both since I can’t afford stevia all the time.

    I know people are doing the no sugar days & weeks & such but I am just not there yet. I eat really well & do so much already & not sure I want or need to do that too.. but to each their own! 🙂

    • Karen

      I actually got Stevia and Truvia not long before I decided to try cutting out sweeteners. My husband suggested them when I was lamenting my overuse of Splenda. I really need to read more about them.

  4. Why oh why did I have to read this just after I poured 2 splenda packets into my nonfat Trader Joe’s Greek yogurt (and yes I’m still going to eat the yogurt)? I’m very conflicted about the whole sweetener issue – I use 2-3 packets of splenda maybe 3 or 4 days a week, when I have the aforementioned yogurt. Really not in anything else.

    My problem is that if I use a “drizzle” of agave nectar, honey, real maple syrup…I want more. Of it, or something else sweet within a short time. I really have the whole sugar addiction in spades, and it makes me sad. The thought of giving up sweetness (leaving only salty, bitter and sour when speaking of tongue physiology) is about as appealing as drinking strychnine. Sad but true. BTW, I’ve been reading even when I don’t comment. Loved the last Thumbs post:)

    • Karen

      Glad to see your name pop up! I was wondering how you were doing and didn’t want to be all big brother on you:)

      Some people, experts and just regular folk, swear that even using sweeteners can make us want the sweet taste more and then increase our chances of overeating. I would like to say that is not true for me, but who knows anymore with all my struggles. But, the real stuff does seem to make me want more. Dr. Oz did a show once about how very bad sugar was for us. Interesting. Let’s blame the food manufacturer’s for years of negative influence on our taste buds!

  5. I have a STRONG opinion about artificial sweeteners: they’re poison, and they’re worse than regular sugar.

    Aspartame is just as dangerous as saccharine, and sucralose (aka Splenda) is still too new for the dangers to be fully known. Despite it being a sugar derivative, it has traces of arsenic — yes, arsenic in it.

    It goes back to Michael Pollan’s thoughts. If it’s not real food, we shouldn’t be consuming it. It’s safer to have small, moderate amounts of real sugar than to risk our lives knowingly consuming poisonous substances.

    • Karen

      Arsenic?! In my discussions with my husband I have tried to explain my conflicted thinking. What do I want? Is it just about eating with control or is it eating healthy? I think the latter means cutting out a whole lotta stuff. I am sure the best way to go would indeed be eating only whole stuff, nothing processed at all. But for most, I don’t think that is realistic. So I am taking baby steps.

  6. I just don’t like the taste. And I have always preferred foods as close to their natural state as possible.

    I read Sweet Poison – a great book – a few months ago now. I am pretty convinced. According to that author’s research, fructose is addictive and turns off the “feel full” signals of our digestive systme. 2 pieces of fruit at most each day is what our body can handle of fructose, including its fibre – so a glass of juice is as poisonous as the white stuff.

    I don’t remember the thesis on the fake stuff in Sweet Poison. And that is because I can’t stand the taste of it. Growing up on white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, molasses, honey, and golden syrup, the few times I tasted the fake it tasted metallic to me. Ick.

    Good luck on trying a day free of the fake. If you were like me, giving up sugar will give you some horrid withdrawal symptoms like headaches! Ouch.

    • Karen

      No withdrawal symptoms, unless we consider my crabbiness at not having anything sweet:) One of the instructors at a gym I went to years ago never ate fruit. In her mind it was sugar, no matter its natural state. I do find I can go a bit crazy with fruit and have found I do best if I eat it later in the day.

  7. It’s probably a good idea to minimize their use. That said, I have the pink stuff in my one cup of coffee/day in the AM.

  8. I have one packet of the blue stuff in my one cup of decaf coffee M-F, with about an equal amount of low-fat Coffeemate. That said, I just researched, and there is only 11 calories in one “service packet” of sugar. I think I can afford 11 calories. I’m giving up the blue stuff; TODAY. ❤ (had already given up diet soda a long time ago.)

    We are being poisoned daily; why knowingly add to it?

    • Karen

      I remember a nutritionist on TV saying how few calories were in sugar if you just used a little. Kudos to you for just that one serving! I’m not much of a soda fan; drank tons in college though.

  9. Yes m’am. I have very strong thoughts on it. ONLY because I work write press releases from medical journals – and beside the whole cancer debate, it has been proven that it raises insulin levels. Interesting.. soo.. I only use in moderation.

  10. I am actually amazed that you don’t already have a million trillion comments on this. It does tend to be a hot-button issue for a lot of people.

    Glad to hear, though, that you are back to exercising … yeah for recovery!

  11. It is such a highly debated issue. I try and use moderation, just like everything else. I find that there are “bad” points for everything…we just can’t win 😉

  12. I do not use any artificial sweeteners to add to anything — of couse if I have a diet coke or something it has it in there….I am not a super sweet person — give me a burritos or a chunk of cheese and that is when I am in food heaven….

  13. Jan

    I am an occasional Stevia user. It doesn’t stimulate my appetite. Stevia seems to prompt an insulin response and modulate insulin resistance (hey, in MICE).

    Because my weight loss is so sensitive to insulin, and humans have been shown to develop some insulin response from other artificial sweeteners, I am very careful with Stevia.

    A side note about Stevia – the pure stuff is no more artificial than processed sugar we buy from the store as it comes from a plant leaf that has been used for hundreds of years by South American natives.

  14. I try to limit all sweets, sweeteners, etc. I usually do truvia or stevia, but I noticed lately some of my whey protein has splenda, meh, moderation with everything I guess.

  15. Vickie Regier

    Hi Karen,

    Good post. I am trying to get away from all fake stuff, but I do still use fake maple syrup on my oatmeal in the morning (real has 200 calories for 1/4 cup!!) and I put Stevia in my coffee. Other than that I think I am artificially sugar free.

    I want my food intake to be what Susan Powter used to say– if it didn’t grow that way don’t eat it.

    Happy Monday,

    • Karen

      Oh I have fake syrup too! If I make oatmeal I use it. When I was “not dieting,” I only liked the real, 100% syrup, not even the “sort of” syrup most people use.

  16. i still use the pink package in coffee and tea but i use the yellow for baking.never found a use for the blue

  17. I remember those little pills that used to fizz around in my Mom’s tea. I think she still uses some kind of sweetener. I don’t really like the taste of artificial sweeteners, however there are a few items that contain them that I don’t mind; maybe one or two. I am trying to stay away from sugar too. But I have heard that artificial sweeteners are keeping us fat as the body still reacts like “sugar” is coming and pumps out insulin…blah, blah, blah. I guess man made stuff just isn’t that great for you food wise. Enjoyed your post today, Karen.

    • Karen

      I remember those too! What were they? Predecessor of Sweet & Low I think. As you can imagine, in the back of my mind I was thinking… are sweeteners keeping me from my goals of controlling my eating and losing weight? A women on my diet forum lost 3 pounds in 3 days when she cut them out!

  18. Well this opened up a lot of opinions! Your post brought back lots of memories for me! The little pink packets, then blue then yellow. Yep I have used them all, use to buy tons of products that were made with them too!

    I gave up the artificial sweeteners. Read to many bad things about them. My health guru Dr Oz says they are a no – no!

    From my own experience as well as from what I have read the more sweets, sugar, artificial sweeteners you have the more it takes to satisfy your taste for sweets. Pretty soon fresh foods that should taste sweet like an apple for instance no longer taste sweet enough.

    Just the same as with salt, the more you use the more you need to use, to get that flavor fix!

    When I went off eating a lot of sugar and artificial sweeteners my sense of taste changed. I could taste the sweetness in a carrot, a piece of celery, fruit tasted like candy! I could actually taste how things really taste!

    I can’t wait to hear your results!

    • Karen

      That is kinda what I wondered… if my taste buds were being impacted and if stopping I would eventually adjust. BTW – Dr. Oz did a big segment on the dangers of sugar, too.

  19. sunnydaze

    I remember my mom using the saccharine tablets in the 70s. I use the pink stuff in my morning coffee even though I can’t stand the taste of it. I should probably stop.

  20. I personally don’t ever use sweeteners. I seldom use sugar at all now that I think of it. And I don’t drink soda- diet or otherwise. Coming from a mother whose child has cancer, I wouldn’t dream of adding that stuff to our diet. I have a hard enough time with dyes used in M & M’s, etc. But as one person wrote, it’s everywhere and it’s hard to “win.”

    To each their own though! 🙂


    • Karen

      It is pretty amazing to consider all the stuff that is added to our foods and considered safe. I remember the big red dye brouhaha many years ago.

  21. Just the other day I had a diet Coke…for the first time in a very long time. It tasted like dirt. I am not sure if it was because of the sweetener or what.

    Anyway, as of right now, the only artificial sweetener that I choose to ingest on a regular basis is the Splenda that’s in my sugar-free Coffee Mate. Otherwise, I use some form of real sugar. That said, I am about to give up coffee because it is not helping my anxiety.

    I prefer to use real sugar (honey, agave, brown, white…). But that doesn’t mean that I will start drinking “regular” sodas or anything. My tolerance for sweets and sugar in general has gone down…I don’t like the taste of overly sweet things, nor does my body feel good when I eat it.

  22. I do not care what they say about my Splenda, I will continue to use it. I try to limit my use, but to be honest I’ve lost my weight I’ve gotten my diabetes under control I’m not giving up something that still gives me pleasure and 0 calories. 🙂

  23. Don’t like them. I ‘m a sugar gal.

  24. Sweetners, maybe I am odd but I didlike them all. I suppose too I have always been a real-deal guy. If I can’t have it straight, keep it. Turkey Bacon, hideous. Light maple syrup, yucko. Butter-like spread or even margerine, no way. Diet soda, ok I do drink that and it does have those sweetners in it. And so on… so being that way I have generally not spent much time worrying about the concerns about these sweetners. I figure if I practice portion and calorie control I can have the real deal most of the time. Or so I hope.

    • Karen

      Not to be sexist, but I don’t know nearly as many guys who use “fake” “diet” foods as I know women. Must be something in the media messages or how we are raised. My own husband doesn’t sweeten anything he drinks.

  25. I’ve used sweeteners in the past, and while I don’t seek them out these days, I don’t get a panty bunch if they show up in something I’m eating. 🙂 My current tea/coffee sweetener is a product called Sun Crystals, which is part stevia/part sugar. Tasty AND it’s only 5 calories per packet. Considering I only use 3 or 4 packets a week, I’m feeling pretty good about it.

  26. Even before I had a child I decided I didn’t want to eat anything that pregnant women weren’t supposed to eat. I think that’s a good rule of thumb.
    I believe they are bad, bad, bad. I believe it’s much better to eat real sugar.
    As far as diet goes, I believe if I don’t learn to control the habit of snacking or sweets etc…then I’m never going to achieve what I want to for my health and my body image, so I need to learn how to deal with real food.
    I believe there are side effects we haven’t begun to understand. I think there are mood and brain chemistry issues that really could affect one’s ability to change bad food habits.
    All that said, I did try Medifast which is loaded with fake. I figured it was more important in the short term to get some of this weight off. Ultimately I proved my own point as I developed a terrible sensitivity to it and started getting migraines whenever I ate some of the specific sweet things.
    If I were you, Karen… I’d get rid of all the aritificial stuff and if you eat sugar, burn it off. You’re body will appreciate both.

    • Karen

      So guess what I cut out when I was pregnant (many years ago)! Yep, sweeteners. If I cut them, I don’t want to replace them with sugar. I take in too much in a day with my drinks and stuff. I’d rather just try to adjust to less sweet tastes. Sigh.

  27. I have tried, really, really, tried to get off the artificial sweeteners. Somehow, I just don’t think they’re healthy. I’m no expert either. It just seems that we should be eating the natural stuff.

    My reality is, I can’t eat sugar and lose weight. There is no way to go out and get a diet drink that doesn’t have some in it unless it is water or tea that is completely unsweet. I did that for a while, a long while actually, but I slipped and had a diet coke and one thing led to another…

    Now my plan is to lose weight however I can – with or without artificial sweeteners. When I get to my goal weight, I’ll wean myself back off of them. A girl’s got to have something.

  28. Splenda is the only one that doesn’t make me vomit. I’m not exaggerating. If I drink diet soda, I will end up loosing my lunch 😦 Sweet-n-low? Forget it! It’s kind of terrible. That being said, Hubs is big on diet soda and crystal light. I’ve been saying they might not be good for him, so he went off them for while and said he felt a bit better. Might be a coincidence, but it might be worth a shot.

  29. Can’t wait to hear how your experiment went! I have recently given up diet pop (again) due to the yucky feeling I get when I drink it. If that feeling alone weren’t enough to convince me that that aspartame isn’t good news, there’s lots of scary news about it online, although I really don’t know how much is true. My take on artificial sweeteners is….don’t be scared to use them, but don’t abuse them. I just recently purchased Somersweet, and it is the BEST sugar substitute I have found so far. It is all natural, so it does have some calories (5/tsp) but it has NO aftertaste and measures and bakes just like sugar, which is rare for a substitute. And 2 g fiber per teaspoon! Love it.

    • Karen

      I cannot believe she is now making her own sweetener! I read her new book recently and saw that in there. Splenda makes a version with fiber too.

  30. I rarely use artificial sweeteners- even when I go out and get coffee I’d rather use sugar but sometimes I’ll use sweet and low. Overall I’m not a fan of the sweeteners or diet coke or any of that fake stuff.

  31. This is exactly what I’m trying to do this week – cut out the sweets.

    I can’t wait to read about how successful you are when you go one day without it… 🙂

  32. I once read an article that described how aspartame breaks down. It breaks down into two amino acids (which is just fine as your body needs them). But it also break down into methanol and/or formaldehyde. These are poisons. Formaldehyde has been linked to cancer. For the most part this sweetener has been banned from our house. I do buy the occasional diet soda for your mother or mine, but I cringe when I do it.

    I don’t really believe in artificial sweeteners. Though Joel likes the yellow packets for his tea. I drink tea unsweetened. And I stick to sugar if I’m going to have something. I believe in real food not fake food. I may have a degree in Chemistry, but I don’t want my food to come from a laboratory.

    • Karen

      You were so on my mind when I was cutting out sweeteners! I can still remember a conversation we had about them years ago. I remember when your kids were very young that you didn’t let them have any.

  33. As you can see from my blog, I love sugar. Haha. I also love the REAL thing. Sugar is hard enough to metabolize, so it’s not good to eat a ton of. However, artificial anything is harder on your body than the natural thing. So, if you want something that’s not so bad on your insulin resistance but is still sweet, agave is king. I’m still a brown sugar girl though 😉

    Thanks for stopping by!

  34. I prefer the real stuff. A couple of years ago I tried Splenda and while I like it, I also notice that every time I use it in my coffee I got headaches. So I never use it again. Most of the days I drink my coffee or green tea with a bit of milk and no sugar. If the coffee is too strong, I will put a tsp of white or brown sugar.

  35. Barbara

    Here is one thing I’m confused about. I’ve heard that one reason artificial sweeteners are bad is because when your tongue tastes the sweetness, your body thinks it’s sugar and releases some kind of chemical to bond to the sugar (maybe insulin?). You can tell I’m not completely informed about this. So if that’s the case, what makes the sweetness from the stevia leaf any different? Even though it’s not artificial, it still tastes sweet on the tongue and I would think it would cause the same chemical release in the body. Which I’m guessing is bad? It’s all so confusing!!!

    Artificial sweeteners (mostly Splenda) used to be in about 50% of the foods and drinks I consumed in a day. Coffee, jello, yogurt, applesauce. crystal light, etc… But all the information out there was just so confusing and seemed inconclusive… so I cut them out (almost) completely. Diet soda is my vice and I allow myseld 1 (or 2) a day.

    • Karen

      I don’t think Stevia helps with the sweetness body reaction thing. I think the difference is that it is “natural” and that is preferable by some people. It is plant-based, I think. Splenda and Equal, etc., are manufactured, “fake.” I’m impressed that you cut those out!

  36. Well, Karen; you already know how I feel about this. I think that we all do the best we can in trying to achieve maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For me, maintaining a healthy weight includes sweeteners. I do not abuse them, meaning I don’t sweeten everything I eat with them; however, sugar itself causes me to retain water and hold onto it. Sweetener doesn’t. Eating sugar makes me crave more sugar. Sweetener doesn’t. I have had to choose whether to be heavy and increase my chances of diabetes (because it runs rampant in my family) or use sweeteners and keep my blood levels in check. Sweeteners it is.
    Having said that, I have switched from Splenda to Truvia and I don’t mind it one bit. Everything in moderation.

  37. I believe that artificial sweeteners are have an impact on our bodies ability to burn fat. I actually have a post on my blog about them. However unfortunately this does not stop me from drinking Fresca daily or putting spenda in my ice tea. That has been a huge struggle for me because I know when I have stopped my intake of splenda I am more successful at losing weight and building lean body mass. I can relate to your post in that I know that my level of intake is bad but I still keep going. UGH!!!! Hope your having a great week. 🙂

    • Karen

      Honestly, if I could pinpoint that same reaction in myself it might be all the motivation I’d need to cut them out forever!

  38. Amy

    I gave the stuff up but the weird thing now is that I am super sensiteve to the taste. I was at a party with a punch bowl with sherbet. I could immeidately taste the DIET 7-up. I knew it was artifical and I stopped drinking it, I can’t stand the taste.

    P.S. Jury is not out yet on the Clinque reddness stuff. My skin is breaking out from the product change (bad) so remind me to report back to you.

  39. LOL… I have a little different perspective. I would LOVE to love artificial sweeteners – diet soda? Splenda in my iced tea or coffee? Would be tons better I imagine…but I can’t stand the taste of it! I hate fake sugar taste so I go for the real (not good) stuff!

  40. Do you remember Gilda Radner? She had an entire skit about artificial sweetners. If you don’t remember it, it’s worth checking it out on You Tube.

    I used to use a lot of artificial sweetner, but I have to say since I’ve started avoiding them, I tend to crave sweet things less. It takes a while, but taste buds do make the adjustment.

    I tried regular stevia, which is a natural sweetener, but it is bitter. Now when I have to have something sweet I try a little Truvia, which is supposed to be stevia, but it isn’t as bitter, or I use a little honey or agave nectar.

    I think there is something to be said for limiting them…but isn’t life about moderation? I still struggle with that in general.

    • Karen

      I actually got both Truvia and Stevia a little while ago. I have tried both and don’t remember disliking either. I think Truvia adds something to whatever is in Stevia?

  41. I use artificial sweeteners about as much as I use sugar, which isn’t much. But, with so many “low cal” and “diet” foods out there, it is hard to avoid artificial sweeteners, because they seem to be in everything. Everything processed, that is.

  42. When I got off artificial sweeteners? I was shocked to ctually have withdrawal symptoms – headaches, nausea, aches – so then I knew my years of indulging were apparently NOT good for my body! I use alfalfa honey (no strong flavor) and as raw a sugar as I can buy!

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