The Rodale Institute just published its list of the five worst sweeteners.
And it puts Aspartame, the calorie-free sweetener found in many diet sodas, at number one, with sugar, that most notorious of unhealthy and high-caloric sweeteners, as low as number four. Separating the two are agave nectar, ranked a surprising number two, and sucralose (Splenda), at number three. Rounding out the list is high-fructose corn syrup at number five.
What does this mean for us? Sadly, it’s not clear. As much as I love the Rodale Institute and admire its work, I found this list rather remarkably unscientific and downright unhelpful. First of all, the criteria by which they just which sweetener is “worst” is not clear. Worst for our bodies? For the environment? For diseases like cancer and heart disease, or for weight gain and general sluggishness?
The Rodale Institute offers no answer to these questions, and even seems to contradict itself within the scant explanations it does offer for its choice of rankings. It lists agave nectar as “worse” than sugar solely because agave is 70 to 80% fructose, while sugar’s only 50%. Yet hugh-fructose corn syrup, which also has more fructose (55 to 60%) than sugar, ranks as less harmful than sugar. No additional reasons are provided.
And sucralose is ranked as the third biggest offender, when the only downsides the article offers are that it’s processed with chlorine and passes through our bodies, ending up in wastewater sites and sometimes spilling over into freshwater sites. Sure, none of that sounds great, but does it matter if it’s made with chlorine? Is it causing harm in freshwater sites? In both cases, I have no idea, because the article doesn’t tell me. Do these factors make sucralose “worse” than high-fructose corn syrup, which has been found to lead to high blood pressure (tied to heart disease), insulin resistance (tied to diabetes and obesity) and high levels of triglycerides (tied to heart disease)?
They may, but it would be nice if they could tell us why.
So, I’m not crazy about the Rodale Institute’s explanation of its rankings, and that makes it hard to evaluate their methodology or learn from their list.
But if we take the list on blind faith, it sounds like we shouldn’t use any sweeteners, because we know high-fructose corn syrup wreaks havoc on our bodies, and apparently just about all other known sweeteners are even more harmful.