Are You Unintentionally Guzzling Artificial Sweeteners? 6 Stealthy “Health” Foods To Watch Out For
With more and more fat-free, sugar-free, and low-carb products infiltrating the grocery store each day, you would think that America might finally have its weight problem under control. About that — it’s getting worse. The unfortunate truth about all these “diet” products is that they are almost always filled with artificial sweeteners, sodium, chemicals, and a ton of words I can’t pronounce.
On the surface, we love that most of these products have significantly less calories, fat, and sugar than the original versions. For example, lightened yogurt can often pack half the calories of full fat yogurt. Diet soda has no calories or sugar, compared to a regular can of Coke’s 140 calories and 33g of sugar. And brands like Walden Farms take it further by nixing all of the calories in salad dressings, dipping sauces, pancake syrup, and more — a dieter’s dream! People will sacrifice almost anything to lose weight; including the creamy, sweet richness that non-diet products typically deliver.
I’m a strong believer in the phrase: “everything in moderation.” A Diet Coke here and there isn’t the worst thing for your health, and replacing sugar-free syrup with your morning stack of pancakes really does save you about 100 calories or so. But have we gone too far? If you’re relying on “diet” products regularly, you should take the time to dig into the ingredient profile.
Most people are familiar with the traditional yellow, blue, and pink packets tightly organized on any breakfast table: sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Equal), and saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low). Over the past few years or so, we’ve also been introduced to a friendlier looking green packet, “Truvia,” also known as rebiana. Although this is a sweetener derived from the stevia plant, it is still considered an artificial sweetener.
While they haven’t directly been linked to certain health risks, studies indicate that consuming artificial sweeteners over time is correlated with an increased risk of weight gain, distaste for natural foods, type 2 diabetes, CV disease, and even addiction. Some studies have even stated that ingesting large quantities is “just as bad for you as sugar… and artificial sweeteners may even exacerbate the negative effects of sugar.”
I was always someone who only looked at the nutrition facts on a product’s label. However, I never really took the time to look at the ingredient profiles, and always thought: “well, if it has half the calories of the original product, how can this not be a win?” But after reading so much about the negative effects that artificial sweeteners may cause, I decided to stop drinking Diet Coke like a fish and started paying attention to ingredient labels. I was distastefully surprised at how many “healthy” or “all-natural” products had artificial sweeteners lurking on the back of their packaging — including everything from almonds to yogurt and protein bars.
Here are a few of the unexpected places I’ve found them hiding.
6 Stealthy “Health” Foods To Watch Out For
1. Emerald Vanilla Roasted Almonds: Almonds are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. They pack protein, healthy fats, and fiber. Unfortunately, these are covered in “vanilla seasoning” AKA sucralose. This was pretty disappointing for me since I was a sucker for buying these 100 calorie packets. Opt for all-natural or sea salt flavors instead.
2. Low-Cal Greek Yogurt: Almost everyone has jumped on the Greek yogurt bandwagon. But be mindful of how much artificial sugar some brands contain. Low-cal Greek yogurt like Yoplait’s Greek 100 and Dannon Light & Fit may skimp on calories and sugar, but they “amp” up the flavor with sucralose and acesulfame potassium. I can’t even pronounce the second ingredient, which is usually a pretty bad sign — go with Icelandic skyr, Chobani, or FAGE.
3. Fiber One Original & Special K Protein Cereal: Both cereals have a strong presence in two of the trendiest food categories right now: fiber and protein. Fiber One Original cereal is made with aspartame, and the Special K Protein variety includes sucralose — not something I was expecting from either of these “healthy” options.
4. Detour Low Sugar Bar: this one is a bit contradictory—no? It’s labeled as “low sugar,” but that’s purely because it uses sucralose in lieu of regular sugar. Protein bars are HUGE culprits for hidden artificial sweeteners. Opt for brands that are made with stevia — Quest Bars, Ansi Gourmet Cheesecake bars, and Rise Bars are all great options. Read our Protein Bar Power Rankings for a full guide to protein bar nutrition.
5. Publix Cottage Cheese: it was hard to believe that something as plain (even though I am obsessed with it) as cottage cheese contained artificial sweeteners — acesulfame potassium, sucralose. Really?! My favorite brand is Daisy 2% cottage cheese. The only three ingredients are cultured skim milk, cream, and salt. It’s simple and pronounceable, the best way to go.
6. Protein Powder: Almost all protein powder relies on artificial sweeteners and flavors. If you’re consuming it regularly (1-2x per day), go with an all-natural variety that uses stevia (or avoids it altogether). Unflavored is a great option if you’re blending up smoothies. Use our protein powder guide if you’re looking to switch.
These are just a few places that I was pretty surprised to find artificial sweeteners lurking. It was a given for certain other products like diet cola, fat free dressings, low fat ice cream, etc. Everything is okay in moderation of course, but if you’re eating certain foods every day, it pays to be mindful of how much you’re actually consuming.
Are there any products that you were shocked to find artificial sweeteners hiding? Let us know in the comments below.
Kelcey Zacarese is a 20-something working at an advertising agency in New York City. She recently graduated from Drexel University in Philadelphia with a degree in Global Journalism and Greek Yogurt Mastery.
She's an utter gym rat and health nut, who spends her free time wandering around Whole Foods or random streets in Soho. Kelcey traveled the country playing soccer and has also published pieces for Thought Catalog in the past.
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