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Artificial Sweeteners: A Cause for Concern

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We’re asked often about the use of sweeteners besides sugar. Of course, we’ve long known certain artificial sweeteners like aspartame were a big no-no for migraineurs.

For the some of the others, however, the potential for harm was a little less clear. But it’s been our general recommendation that the preferred strategy was to avoid them altogether (regardless of the strength of their marketing materials).

One reason being we’ve learned that those who adopt this strategy clearly do the best, and make the speediest progress.

We understand, though. Getting rid of added sugar is step 1 in the plan. Being the drug recently crowned as most addictive, it’s no surprise this leads to sugar cravings for some. Especially those with a pre-existing sweet tooth. And sweeteners can help to satisfy those cravings.

But continuing to sweeten food seems to only perpetuate the sugar addiction, maintaining those sugar cravings indefinitely. Get rid of the sweeteners, and the addiction breaks.

Removing all the added sweeteners also has the wonderful perk of waking your palate to all the richness of flavor and sweetness long hidden under the oppression of sugar.

Jenny and I don’t use sweeteners of any kind, which is why you won’t find them in our Primal Provisions recipes.

[RELATED: If you’d like 3 complete sets of sweetener-free and delicious Migraine Miracle meal plans sent your way every week, then check out Primal Provisions.]

Beyond the addiction issue, though, it wasn’t clear if there were additional reasons to stay away.

That looks to be changing.

In a study just published in the journal Stroke, researchers tracked the connection between consumption of artificially sweetened beverages, stroke, and dementia. The result: consumption of artificially sweetened beverages was associated with a 3-fold increase in the risk of stroke and dementia (95% CI 1.26–6.97 for stroke, 1.18–7.07 for dementia).



Two Important Questions

There’s a great lesson here, one that gets back to a fundamental point about food. A point that’s ESPECIALLY important for those with migraines, where living in harmony with our ancient biology is essential to keeping the beast away.

And that’s that there are really two questions for evaluating food. Two questions that, for me, still remain the single best framing device for deciding what’s best to eat.

It’s easy to lose sight of them. When we do, though, it’s an easy slide down a slippery slope, as the emerging story on sweeteners is telling us.

Here are those two simple and very important questions to use when evaluating food:

QUESTION #1: Is this food something a wild, hunter gatherer human could’ve safely eaten?

If yes, then place in the SAFE pile (this is a VERY large pile, btw 🙂 ).

If not, then place in the SUSPECT pile, and move to question number 2.

QUESTION #2: Do we have good reason to believe that it’s still safe for human consumption (i.e. not disease promoting)?

If no, then place in the avoid – or at least “approach with caution” – pile pending further information.

And, of course, if it has been proven UNSAFE, then place in the avoid pile.


For a while, the sweeteners remained in somewhat of a gray zone. None would’ve been available to our ancestors (“no” to question one), but a case could be made for some that they might be ok. I wouldn’t say so anymore.

While the data from the aforementioned study is correlational (i.e. we can’t conclude based on this evidence that the artificial sweeteners is directly responsible for the increase in stroke and dementia), it nonetheless presents compelling cause for concern, especially for a food that’s already in the suspect pile.

At this point, it’s up to those who would promote them to prove, beyond and doubt, that they’re safe. And they have an uphill road.

For me, there’s an important reminder here (one I lose sight of occasionally), which is to always keep those two important questions top of mind. Because time and again, we’re learning the same lesson: when we stray from the ancestral template, we usually pay the price.