Artificial Sweeteners — Fact and Fiction

During Monday’s edition of “FOX & Friends,” we did a segment on artificial sweeteners
(Read more). It got an incredible response. No wonder I can count on one hand the people I know who aren't counting calories.

Let's face it — Americans love their sweets! That is why artificial sweeteners have taken such an important role in our diets. We are not totally to blame. Madison Avenue has done a pretty good number on us over the years. But nevertheless we should be aware about some of the facts on these products.

Here is some information on the most popular artificial sweetners: First Splenda, which was labeled as "natural" by the FDA approval process, is not completely natural. Actually it is partially synthetic (SUCRALOSE) and made up of two compounds, sugar and chlorine. The good news is that the digestive process poorly absorbs it. The bad news is that chlorine can be deposited in fat cells staying there for a long time without really knowing what the long-term effects could be.

Aspartame, trade name Nutrasweet or Equal, is another popular artificial sweetener. The FDA approved it in 1981 after tests showed it did not cause cancer in laboratory animals (although not all of the laboratory experiments agreed — WHAT?! Multiple citings appear to indicate that aspartame has had the most complaints of any food additive available to the public.

Recently an article in the New York Times discussed a new seven-year study on aspartame by Dr. Morando Soffritti (Read more). The research team found that the sweetener was associated with high rates of lymphoma, leukemia and other cancer in rats who were given doses equivalent to five 20 ounce diet sodas a day (I know people who live on the stuff). This led the European Food Safety Authority to look more closely at the safety of aspartame. I hope the FDA does the same thing.

One thing we didn't talk about on “FOX & Friends” was Stevia, known as the "sweet herb." It has been used in South America for hundreds of years without ill effects. Although there has never been a significant study on its safety, it has not been approved by the FDA for use in the United States. However, Stevia is much lower in calories than sugar and its use is gaining momentum in the U.S.

So what is the answer? The answer is to decrease your dependence on sweets and get a natural balance of health in your diet.

Yeah right! Just be careful — everything in moderation.

You had a lot of questions and comments about the artificial sweeteners. Here are some of them. Remember we also answer viewer mail on “FOX News Live” Wednesdays at 10:48 p.m. ET (barring breaking news).

“In your discussions on lo-cal sweeteners, I was wondering if you have heard of Stevia which is a natural sweetener that is supposed to be three times sweeter than an equal amount of sugar. I have used it and find it very good.” — J. (Dover, OH)

Dr. Manny's Response: So do I, this product has been around for a long time, in fact it's the most popular sweetener in Japan.

"I am very interested in what I have been ingesting and want to know what is safe. I have given up the pink for the yellow. Help! I'm guessing just giving it all up is the best idea." — Donna

Dr. Manny's Respnse: When in doubt: Go natural.

"I use honey or brown sugar to sweeten my coffee, drinks or other things when I cook or bake. I feel that I'm at least getting something better than white sugar or substitutes. What's your feeling on that?" — Anonymus

Dr. Manny's Response: Both are much much better than refined white sugar. Remember though, it is possible to get too much of a good thing!

"So glad you are discussing artificial sweetners. My question is about phenylalanine which is one of the chemicals in aspartame. Whenever I consume any food containing aspartame, I have stiffening and swelling in my joints. My fingers swell to the point where I am unable to get my rings on or off my fingers. I have leg stiffness along with headaches and dizziness. I was diagnosed with 'acetylcholinasterase deficiency' a number of years ago. I have read some articles on the internet connecting phenylalanine with this deficiency. I avoid aspartame and keep it out of my family's diet. I would like to know if you have heard anything about this connection and if you have any more information on this." — Connie (Omaha, NE)

Dr. Manny's Response: Connie, the symptoms that you describe are common side effects of people with your disease. Stay away from aspartame.

"I heard about your segment on artificial sweetners and would like to know more. Which brand do researchers say is the most safe? Currently, I drink about two to four diet Cokes per day. I believe diet Coke contains aspartame. Is that too many to be considered safe?" — Anonymus

Dr. Manny's Response: Most products are being switched to Splenda. Stay tuned for more information

"I give my children Crystal Light to drink instead of putting sugar-sweet Kool Aid drinks in their lunch. They are four and two years old. Do you think this is okay or should I put the regular Kool Aid drinks in their lunch?" — Curtis

Dr Manny's Response: You shouldn't be giving any artificial sweeteners to kids. And I'd stay away from Kool Aid. How about some natural juice or a bottle of water?

"I caught the end of your segment this morning when you mentioned sweeteners. Which one is the best?" — Sue

Dr. Manny's Response: There is no "best" right now.

"I heard your segment on Splenda this morning. I have been very curious about this and have a daughter who is doing everything in her power to get the whole family to stop using artificial sweeteners. My question: Do you use Splenda? Equal? Sweet & Low?" — Bette

Dr. Manny's Response: I use none of the above, that's why I need more exercise!

P.S. Don't forget to watch FOX News Channel. And please feel free to write to me at DRMANNY@FOXNEWS.COM and tell me what you think. Ask a question, share a thought, share a remedy — We'll try to answer all of your mail online or on the air.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit