Zero and low calorie food labels are appealing to those looking to eat healthier and lose weight.
In many of those products, you'll find artificial sweeteners, but are they doing more harm than good?
Renee Chiaramonte is a registered nurse at Mercy Hospital. She's used to taking care of others, but when it came to her own health, that usually took a back seat.
“I was eating a lot of sugar at one point,” says Renee.
Carbonated drinks that helped keep Renee awake during her overnight shifts at the hospital were a necessity.
Renee says, “I was drinking tons of diet pop, I was thinking I was doing myself a favor by not drinking the sugared pop ya know?”
Her addiction quickly spiraled out of control. She would use 500 packets of Splenda a month.
Packet after packet and over the course of several months and years, she says first came weight gain, then joint pain.
“My joints were so sore that I couldn`t open the baby bottles that we had to use at work, I had to have someone help me open the baby bottles,” says Renee.
Then a torn tendon in her knee that required surgery.
She started to suspect all these health problems were the result of a poor diet.
Renee says she felt like she was poisoning herself, “I realized I was way overboard on my artificial sweeteners.”
What is it about artificial sweeteners that draw in sugar consumers time after time?
Drake marketing professor, Doctor Natalie Ross-Adkins says she isn't surprised when people like Renee get hooked on particular products, like artificial sweeteners.
“We are habitual people we may not like to think we are habitual people we do things in a habit,” says Adkins.
Marketers take advantage of those habits and use an intricate strategy to do it. From the color scheme of the product, to where it’s placed on the shelf, marketers know how to reel consumers in.
Adkins says, “People are attracted to things that are eye level so if you go into a grocery store and you look at sugar.... Sugar is down low, but the artificial sweeteners are up high.
It’s a part of a marketers plan to make shopping easy and to have them coming back for more.
When consumers become too comfortable with a product, they don't realize how harmful the ingredients might be.
Doctors say that this means taking a closer look at nutrition label on the back of the box.
“Anything that says light or sugar free, low calorie, diet any of those products that are marketed as that. I think it’s very well worth the time to look at the label,” says chiropractor Dr. Ann Buenger.
She has been practicing chiropractic’s for more than 10 years, focusing on the total wellness of the body.
She reminds us that artificial sweeteners hide out in a lot of the foods we eat and drink.
So here's what you, the consumer, need to be on the lookout for, aspartame is the generic term for Equal, Splenda is another name for sucralose and Sweet ‘n’ Low is saccharin.
Experts say all of these can trigger weight gain, migraines, depression and even cancer.
Dr. Buenger says, “They are all chemicals which means they are all toxic to our bodies.”
She says that by drinking diet soda and even chewing gum with artificial sweeteners is like injecting the sugar directly into your veins.
“They`re liquid they`re already in an absorbent form as soon as you take them so your body gets more of the chemical in your bloodstream,” says Dr. Buenger.
Once in the bloodstream the chemicals are then stored in your fat cells. That’s why people tend to gain weight instead of losing weight when drinking and eating zero or low calorie foods.
Developing these symptoms doesn’t happen overnight.
Dr. Buenger says, "Some of the research says that up to 75 percent of the neurons in a particular area in the brain have to have died before the symptoms start to come out."
It is possible for sweet tooth's to curb their cravings. You just have to be responsible for what you’re putting into your body.
“I’ve seen a lot of cases of people that have made some huge dramatic changes in their health just by getting rid of these things in their diet, people that have gotten their lives back,” says Dr. Buenger.
People like Renee.
“And now this is 7-years later, I don`t have any joint pain, I’m not on any medicines and I feel really really healthy.”
Since then she has tossed her bulk supply of Splenda and canceled her surgery. She knows the artificial sweeteners were to blame.
“You know it could have been that it was just heeling but definitely I was able to walk better. I think it was all connected.”
Editor's note: There are varying opinions on the effects of artificial sweeteners. You can find more views on the product in the links below.