The Natural versus Artificial Foods debate is almost as controversial as the Organic versus Traditional produce and meats discussion. Generally everyone should be eating foods as close to their natural states as possible. In my current view point I believe eating Natural is more important to your good health than eating Organic but if you can do both great. It seems crazy that we even need to talk about eating Natural foods, who in their right mind would put something inside them that isn't! Well, everyone.
Artificial Flavors and Preservatives
The most common artificial culprit is flavors and preservatives used to increase shelf life and keep food flavorful longer, which is a good thing for consumers without lots of time to cook. We should definitely beware of ingesting too many processed foods but more because of their nutrition content or general lack there of than because of artificial flavors and preservatives. These have been in our processed foods for decades and have yet to be linked to any health effects. I say yet because there are new studies out everyday and until someone really tests the long-term effects we just cannot be 100% positive, but we can be pretty sure.
Our current American society is in an unwinding process from our complex work in food science as well as in mortgages. In both circumstances we tried to have our cake and eat it too, trying to create the most commercially viable and lucrative products at the risk of our long term health. We want all the best traits of bad fats and refined sugars without any of their tradeoffs. So rather than focusing on moderation or available natural healthier ways to sweeten and fatten our foods, they created fake fats and sugars. Of course now companies are back tracking and creating "Natural" products in reaction to our societies desires to return to simpler and safer means of living life. This is a good thing but buyers must still be vigilant and understand the issues for themselves without relying on packaging.
Recent studies have proven the adverse health effects of Trans fats, which are fats that have been artificially hydrogenated,and a huge PR campaign against them has all but collapsed their economic viability, thank God! Another failed attempt was made by snack companies who put millions into finding fat substitutes like Olestrol, but many of use only needed to hear about the gastrointestinal side effects once to not be interested. Your are best off sticking to natural "good fats" found in nuts and vegetables.
The debate comes up when you get into artificial sugars and the successful products that continue to flood the market:
Aspartame 200x sweeter, Equal® or Nutrasweet®.
Saccharin 200x sweeter, Sweet'N Low® or SugarTwin®
Sucralose 600x sweeter, Splenda®.
Acesulfame-K 200x sweeter, Sunette® or Sweet One®;
Tagatose same sweetness, Sugaree® or Naturlose™
Neotame 7,000 to 13,000x sweeter food additive.
When you're on a diet, the "no-sugar" label on many packaged foods can be tempting. Sometimes no sugar means not sweetened but many time it means the food has been sweetened artificially. As many as 75% of us in the U.S. consume artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners have been clinically tested and deemed safe for consumption for most, but not all, people. Currently, there is still a great deal of public controversy surrounding the safety of several sugar-substitutes. For example, even though there is no dependable evidence that aspartame has toxic effects at doses that would be expected in normal consumption, some people who are sensitive to aspartame have reported headache, fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, and more pronounced symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). You'll have to wait to see if there are any long-term consequences because most artificial sweeteners are relatively new to the food scene-especially sucralose-the long-term effects of regular consumption are still unknown.
Even if artificial sweeteners are safe, are they really a healthy choice? Low-calorie sweeteners can play a role in reducing body weight and body mass index (BMI) because they contain very few or no calories, helping to reduce total calorie intake. However if they are causing you to overeat to try to feel satiated or consume too many empty calories, neglecting nutrient rich foods. Here are a few points to consider when deciding the best way to incorporate them into your diet:
You'll have to guard against overeating. Substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar is an easy way to cut back on calories and thus lose weight, right? Not really. The latest research on sugar substitutes has led some researchers to believe that consuming products that contain artificial sweeteners may actually encourage you to eat more servings than you would if the food or drinks were sweetened with real sugar. A recent study from Purdue University found that consumption of saccharin led to increased appetite and weight gain in rats. (Swithers and Davidson, 2008) This animal studies have revealed behaviors that suggest sugar substitutes may interfere with the body's natural ability to count calories based on a food's sweetness. When this calorie-counting ability is skewed, you may consume excess calories. However, issues with the study's size and design prevented the results from being applied to humans. It's still too early to say definitively, however regardless of sweetener you need to be conscious of the total number of calories you consume whenever you eat or drink.
Overdoing it might develop a sweet tooth. Consuming sugar substitutes on a regular basis may cause you to develop an exaggerated craving for sweetness that carries over to calorie rich sugar foods, again adding on calories.
Artificial sweeteners on labels do not always means "low-calorie." Many artificially sweetened foods still contain fat and calories such as sugar-free versions of muffins, ice cream, or desserts so read labels thoroughly and focus on controlling calorie intake and exercising regularly.
You may need to work harder to get needed nutrients.
It's normal to crave sweets. Humans naturally have an appetite for sugary things. However, if the foods you typically reach for are candy and cookies, even if they are sugar-free, you're getting mostly empty calories and few, if any, beneficial nutrients. By filling your menu with sugar-free versions you will likely not get enough vital nutrients with those calories, hence empty calories.
Rather than seeking out sugar-free versions of your favorite
indulgences, try replacing a few of them with whole foods, such as fruits like apples, strawberries and bananas. Fruits offer much more than a satisfied sweet tooth, they have fiber that satiates your hunger and the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to fight off illness and needless aging. If your favorite indulgence is soda, it's certainly better for your waistline to grab a diet soda than a regular soda that is full of sugar and empty calories. Just be sure your diet sodas don't elbow out healthier, more nutritious choices such as pure fruit juice, skim milk, water, or herbal tea.
There is an herbal alternative to sweeteners, Stevia. Stevia is a popular natural sweetener extracted from the Stevia rebaudiana plant. This herb has been used in South America for centuries, is about 300 times sweeter than sugar, and is calorie-free. Although it has not been approved as a safe food additive or been classified as a sweetener by the FDA, it is sold as a dietary supplement in some health/natural food stores. It has been approved for use in food in more than a dozen countries, including Japan, Ukraine, and Thailand.
Focus less on sweets and more on diversity
It's fine to treat yourself to something sweet from time to time. In fact, denying yourself sweet foods may increase their appeal and cause you to overeat when you finally satisfy the craving. But because many artificially sweetened foods still contain calories (and some tend to be nutritionally weak), you should think of artificially sweetened foods the same way you think about sugar-sweetened ones and practice moderation with them. Otherwise, a healthy diet could quickly be transformed into a calorie-dense or nutrient-poor one.