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To many people, artificial sweeteners seem like the solution for weight loss. You can get the sweetness of sugar in your diet soda without the calories. What could be bad? Well, as it turns out, a lot of things.

As Americans, we are dropping our per capita consumption of regular soda (great!), but the bad news is we are replacing that soda with diet soda. Artificially sweetened food is not the answer to regular sugar. When we eat regular sugar, our body registers the sweetness and comes to understand that very sweet things contain a lot of calories. Studies suggest that when we trick our bodies by using artificial sweeteners, our internal ability to count calories is thrown way off. Researchers at Purdue University found that when rats who’d grown accustomed to consuming artificially sweetened liquids were given sweet foods high in calories, the rats overate. Some research has even linked diet soda to an elevated risk of metabolic syndrome, though the relationship isn’t clear.

As a recovering Diet Coke addict who was formerly known to ingest Splenda by the boatload, my advice is simple: Don’t use artificial sweeteners. Your whole way of eating should be consuming food the way nature intended, before it got sent to a chem lab and became indecipherable to our biology.

I want you to cut down on regular sugar as much as possible, but it’s okay in very small amounts. If you eat too much sugar, it will make you gain weight, but at least it’s natural and not completely screwing up your internal calorie counter. I didn’t go cold turkey with sweeteners, and you don’t have to either — the key is to use natural, nontoxic products. I recommend crystalline xylitol and stevia. The artificial sweeteners I want you to steer clear of are acesulfame-K (Sunett, Sweet One), aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), saccharin (Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin), and sucralose (Splenda).**