I certainly agree with you about visualizing where my food comes from and how it exists in its natural state. What I mean about the evidence on artificial sweeteners being primarily anecdotal is that the negatives of them are often subjective rather than quantifiable. i.e. Saying it 'may increase appetite or desire to eat sweet foods.' Well increase in who? What percent of the population, etc. What is an 'increase', 1%, 50%? That being said, I certainly agree that the more naturally whole your food is, the better you can picture it in its natural state, the better it is likely to be for you.
You're right about the Ace K being in almost everything sugar free. It is probably next to impossible to isolate it while eating sugar free or low sugar 'diet' foods.. although one could certainly argue that actually maintaining a healthy body composition long term would be easiest/best by adopting a diet consisting primarily of whole foods in their most natural state, which wouldn't include many sugar-free products I know of!
As far as maple syrup is concerned, the Acesulfame Potassium argument is probably irrelevant anyway. I know when I eat maple syrup it is almost always on high GI foods that spike my insulin levels anyway (except bacon, an awesome combo FYI).
The main problem with sugar free products I see is that people typically use them when on a low carb diet. The purpose of low carb diets is to induce ketosis, so your body converts fat into ketones for energy in the absence of glucose. Any spike in insulin levels, whether from glucose or acesulfame potassium is going to kick you out of ketosis and limit the effectiveness of a LC diet.