The High Price of Being Skinny


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Violet Stiehl used artificial sweeteners for 30 years until she was diagnosed with adult onset pre-diabetes.

"I used aspartame, saccharine, the pink packets, the blue packets and the yellow Splenda packets until I heard they were cancer causing substances and contribute to diabetes," Stiehl told MainStreet.

Like a drug addict in a 12-step routine, the 50-year-old stopped using sweeteners 208 days ago but is still counting days.

"I always had a piece of sugar free gum in my mouth, and I put sweetener in my yogurt in the morning," Stiehl said. "I am constantly dieting and need something in my mouth to bridge the gap of not eating."

At first, Stiehl craved sweeteners but now she can take or leave the multi-colored packets. "As long as I don't put them in my system, I don't think about sweeteners," Stiehl said. "We're all addicted to sweeteners or sugar. We're a nation of addicts."

Stiehl may be on to something. With the natural sweeteners market expected to reach $21.9 billion in 2014 alone, natural food is becoming big business globally, according to a Visiongain market report.

"Artificial sweeteners are designed to be hundreds to a thousand times sweeter than sucrose or table sugar," said Beth Shaw, founder of YogaFit and leader of Mind Body Fitness education. "This high level of sweetness makes it hard to transform your flavor preferences and may even intensify sugar cravings and dependency."

Whether it was Stevia, Splenda, aspartame or saccharine, Stiehl was spending at least $5 a day on sweetener products such as gum, diet soda and mere packets to put in her coffee.

"From what I've read, Stevia is benign, but I need to stop my sugar craving so I am going cold turkey," Stiehl said. "Just because the food industry wants to make money off us humans, it doesn't mean I have to support them. I spent plenty money on sweeteners over the years starting with a $1.50 on a pack of gum and I chewed two or three packs a day and sometimes more."

The Visiongain forecast further revealed that Stevia and other novel natural sweetener ingredients will increasingly replace conventional synthetic sugar substitutes in some food and beverage market segments as a way to enter the premium products range.

"Many people dealing with diabetes turn to sugar substitutes whether or not it's for a weight issue," said Kathy Gruver, author of the Alternative Medicine Cabinet (Infinity Publishing, 2010). "The most popular right now is stevia. We are seeing it being made in liquids and powders and a few large companies are trying to formulate it into sodas and other products. Some people choose agave nectar or xylitol but across the board stevia has come out on top."

Stiehl went so far as to pocket sweeteners by the handful from various coffee shops where packets were on display for no charge. "Generally, low-calorie sweeteners may be more expensive than cane sugar but there are generic options and sometimes they go on sale making the price-point variable," said Alison Massey, dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

For those on a food budget, there's hope to purchase Stevia at a lower price eventually. Certain Stevia manufacturers are working overtime to make the plant based sweetener more affordable.

"There are murmurs in the food and beverage industry that the transformation away from all artificial sweeteners is beginning," said Robert Brooke, CEO of Stevia First. "We're working to make the global Stevia supply much more reliable and cost-effective through the use of novel agricultural techniques and enzymatic processing, which could make the global supply far more scalable and cost-effective."

Other natural sweeteners, such as xylitol, monk fruit and erythritol have yet to hit their stride.

"I like sugar alcohols, such as erythritol, because they contain some calories unlike stevia, which has no calories," said J.J. Virgin, a nutrition expert and author of The Virgin Diet (Harlequin, 2012). "The problem with no-calorie sweeteners is a condition called calorie 'dysregulation' where your body can no longer calibrate the degree of sweetness to the caloric load. As a result, you're more prone to overeating."


--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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