“If you are bitter at heart, sugar in the mouth will not help you.” ~ Yiddish Proverb

One tall coffee Frappuccino with sucralose, acesulfame-potassium, and high fructose corn syrup, please.

Otherwise known as a light coffee frap, this 90-calorie caffeine boost is a seemingly healthy substitution for its “regular” counterpart, a blended beverage with more than double the calories and a day’s worth of sugar. Making a skinny swap has become a standard first step in cutting calories, fat and sugar intake for health-conscious Starbucks fiends, but the artificial additives may be hazardous pitfalls when considering long-term health risks.

When artificial sweeteners began to make their way into mainstream beverages and foods as “healthy” alternatives to sweet tooth traps, most Americans picked up on the trend, thinking they were simply nixing unnecessary sugar from their diets. With innocent names like Equal, Splenda and Sweet ‘n Low—the household names for aspartame, sucralose and saccharin—those colorful little packets soon found homes in kitchen pantries and on restaurant tabletops. The ingredient list, however, was unpronounceable and often overlooked.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends a daily dietary limit of around 40 grams, or only 10 teaspoons, of added sugar. Yet, just one 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola exceeds that limit in just a few quick sips. So making the switch from added to artificial sugar takes care of that problem, right? Maybe not.

Chemical remedies—new and, yet, unproven—essentially turn us all into human guinea pigs. We don’t have a sense for all of their ramifications. In this way, many artificially produced foods have potential to be harmful.

Sugars found in natural sources, such as fruit or honey, are part of a nutrient-rich package, not to be confused with added sugar-laden, empty calorie foods like candy, soda and Little Debbie snacks. Treating yourself to something made with natural sugar may still be less harmful than the zero-calorie, fat-free, low-carb chemical replacements.

A person is always better off with the natural choice. If you eat too many sweet foods, you feel sick, but if you eat too much aspartame, you may not have the indicators to shut that craving down. The chemical may not contain any calories, but your body still cannot break it down.

“The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends a daily dietary limit of around 40 grams, or only 10 teaspoons, of added sugar.”

Aspartame is responsible for over 75 percent of adverse food reactions, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Potentially one of the most harmful additives on the market, the body does not metabolize it—or similar sugar substitutes—easily.

Any of the following things on the ingredient list indicate sugar lurking inside the product:

  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Corn syrup solids
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Sucrose
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Molasses
  • Turbinado

So while the idea of artificial additives is suddenly not so sweet, sugar cravings can still be kicked with natural alternatives. Honey, maple syrup and date paste are all chemical-free, unprocessed and natural—sure to satisfy even the biggest sweet tooth. Lucuma, mesquite, or sucanant may help nix the sweetener habit, as well. Natural stevia sweeteners also do the trick without the calories of even the “good guy” sweeteners. And adding almond milk, a little natural vanilla extract and a sprinkle of cinnamon to black coffee can help wean the worst “sugar-free” addicts from their light Frappuccino habit. Sugary goodness without the unpronounceable substances: a sweet deal worth the switch.