At first glance, artificial sweeteners appear to be the true solution to weight maintenance: providing the sweetness of real sugar, without the carbohydrates or calories. No brainer, right? To help you decide for yourself, here’s the deal with 3 biggies:

Splenda: or sucralose, is marketed as a “natural” product, because is made from sugar. But this is misleading, because sucralose does not exist anywhere in nature. In reality, it’s made from sucrose (table sugar) in a lab via a slew of harsh chemicals. During the process, oxygen and hydrogen are exchanged for chlorine (yes, as in pool water). The switch actually makes Splenda 600 times sweeter than table sugar.

Pros: because the body doesn’t recognize sucralose as a carbohydrate, blood sugar is unaffected (big deal for diabetics).

Cons: animal studies have revealed that sucralose may adversely impact the immune system; because sucralose is so much sweeter than natural sugar, it may lead to an overstimulation of sugar receptors…making you crave intensely sweet foods throughout the day. Not ideal.

Sugar alcohols (i.e. xylitol, sorbitol + mannitol): carbohydrates that are incompletely absorbed by the body due to their chemical structure. Xylitol occurs naturally in some foods (but is often manufactured in commercial products), while sorbitol and mannitol are always manufactured. However, unlike sucralose, sugar alcohols are actually less sweet than natural sugar.

Pros: because sugar alcohols are incompletely absorbed by the body, they have a diminished effect on blood sugar; do not overstimulate sugar receptors.

Cons: when consumed in excess, these bad boys can cause serious GI distress (we’re talking major gas, bloating + time in the ladies); especially dodgy for people with IBS; while sugar alcohols may have a diminished effect on blood sugar, they will affect blood sugar when consumed in excess.

Truvia: or rebiana, is extracted from stevia, a South American herb known as “sweet leaf.”  Truvia was recently ok’d by the FDA in 2008, however whole leaf stevia was not.

Pros: sugar and calorie free; contains trace amounts of nutrients.

Cons: has been known to cause nausea + bloating; intermediate studies have revealed that rebiana may be linked to DNA damage.

My advice: without long-term studies, we simply don’t know what the long-term health effects are. And for people without diabetes, it doesn’t seem worth the risk. Plus, while Splenda may save you some calories and carbs in that iced coffee, it may also change the way you taste food. Ew.