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DCL

Trying to keep your weight down and trying to be healthy can be totally different things. There was a time in my life when I believed that sugar-free foods and drinks were actually good for me. I was drinking sugar-free Red Bulls and dumping Splenda into my morning coffee like my life depended on it. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I considered myself healthy then.

I always heard negative things about artificial sweeteners in passing, but dodged conversations about it and pretended like I didn't hear or read anything knocking the merit of the products. What can I say? I was addicted to caffeine and totally uninterested in ditching my habit. (And who doesn't love a low-calorie caffeine fix?)

But after learning a thing or two about artificial sweeteners, I've left my sugar-free energy drink toting days behind me.

Some facts about artificial sweeteners that made me change my mind:

1. They are chemicals or natural compounds that replace the sweetness of sugar, without all of the calories. But sometimes the label 'sugar-free' masks calories present in the food or drink. Of course you can always read the product's label, but believe it or not, there are a whole lot of people out there who think that sugar-free or fat-free means low-calorie. On top of that, there are some recent studies that have shown that artificial sweeteners can actually increase your appetite. And then there are sugar-free products with ingredients that can raise your blood sugar dramatically—like the white flour in sugar-free cookies. All in all, 'sugar-free' doesn't always mean 'diet-friendly'.

2. Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, NatraSweet, Canderel, Spoonfuls, DiabetiSweet) is a common chemical sweetener with possible side effects that sound like they're out of a horror movie. From hallucinations to seizures to brain tumors, it is hardly worth consuming for the sake of saved calories.

3. Sucralose (Otherwise known as Splenda, my past-sweetener of choice), is scary. Recent research suggests that Splenda can enlarge both the liver and kidneys and shrink the thymus glands. Sucralose breaks down into small amounts of dichlorofructose, which has not been tested adequately tested in humans. Splenda reportedly can cause skin rashes, panic, diarrhea, headaches, bladder issues, stomach pain, and those side effects don't even sum it up.

Think this sounds bad? Do some further research. Most artificial sweeteners on store shelves are accompanied by numerous side-effect stories. (Some recent studies suggest they cause cancer. Should something as serious as cancer really be overlooked?) Research also suggests that they actually cause overeating among consumers.

In addition to all of this, consider the waste involved in the industry of artificially sweetening. Ever stepped into a coffee shop and noticed a mound of sugar substitute packets building on the counter or in the trash? We've been wasting one of our most precious resources for the sake of a sweetener that can harm our bodies and prevent weight loss. It sounds unfathomable, but true nonetheless.

What you can do instead to get your sugar fix:

Turn to natural sweeteners for your drinks and food alike. Honey, organic maple syrup, molasses, date sugar, brown rice syrup, and stevia are just a few natural sweeteners you can turn to. Not only will they wreak less havoc on your body, but your support of these sweeteners instead will, eventually, help to slow the production of toxic artificial sweeteners--which are significantly less delicious in my opinion anyway.