Artificial Sweeteners – helpful or harmful?
You probably know the negative health effects of eating too much sugar, especially “added sugars” like in soft drinks, lollies, baked goods, and even soups and packaged cereals… added sugar is hiding just about every packaged food you pick up.
Yes, sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin, and increases your risk for a whole host of issues.
One of the food industry’s responses to the demand for lower-calorie foods was to introduce artificial sweeteners. The idea behind them is that you can still get the sweetness, without the calories, one of the popular products being a “diet soft drink” rather than a regular one. Theoretically, this was going to help people maintain a healthy body weight, and hopefully not increase anyone’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.
But, it doesn’t always work out the way we think it will, and the solution may not be to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners.
Types of artificial sweeteners
“Sugar substitutes” fall into several categories, but what they all have in common is that they have a sweet taste and fewer calories than plain sugar.
- Saccharin (Sweet & Low),
- Acesulfame potassium,
- Aspartame (Equal & NutraSweet), and
- Sucralose (Splenda)
Health effects of artificial sweeteners
Negative health effects from artificial sweeteners are cited all over the place, many studies showing effects such as cancer and heart disease. However, we need to bare in mind much of the research has been on animals, which may or may not translate to people.
Here is an interesting fact: Splenda was actually discovered in a chemistry lab while attempting to create new insecticides. It was accidentally discovered to be surprisingly sweet and was soon marketed as Splenda. Sucralose’s chemical structure is the same found in swimming pools & consuming it actually delivers this chlorine directly to cells. It’s classified as an organochlorine just like banned DDT, Aldrin (pesticide), PCBs, chloroform, & phosgene.
There is increasing scientific evidence shown from human studies that these sweeteners:
- Promote metabolic dysfunction, one study showing an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks daily
- Regular consumption of SSBs is associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease
- Consumption of over 2 servings per day of artificially sweetened soda is associated with a 2-fold increased odds for kidney function decline in women.
- May effect the microbiome composition and function. This study and this study found artificial sweeteners caused significant reductions in gut flora in rats and mice.
I want to point out one ironic thing to do with artificial sweeteners and weight.
- Increase weight, some studies have found that people who tend to drink diet sodas have double the risk of gaining weight than those who didn’t. This study showed that DeltaBMIs were 47% greater among artificial sweetener users than non users. It concluded “these findings raise the question whether AS use might be fueling–rather than fighting–our escalating obesity epidemic”. Surprisingly, epidemiologic data suggest the contrary. This study reported Several large scale prospective cohort studies found positive correlation between artificial sweetener use and weight gain.
While these results may not apply equally to everyone, they do somehow seem ironic, don’t they? The reality is we don’t know for sure why AS can have a reverse affect on weight loss.
Maybe artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for more (real) sweets. It has been suggested that the sweet taste of these sweeteners signals to our body to release insulin to lower our blood sugar but, because we didn’t actually ingest sugar, our blood sugar levels get too low, to the point where we get sugar cravings. Perhaps it’s because the sweeteners change the taste preferences so that fruit starts to taste worse, and vegies taste terrible? Some even say (and at least one animal study suggests) that saccharin may inspire addictive tendencies toward it. Maybe it’s simply because people feel that they can eat cake because they’ve switched to diet soda.
There are lots of studies are coming out showing there is a more complex response that involves the interference to our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels.
What can you do?
I highly recommend reducing your sugar intake, so you naturally re-train your palate and start enjoying the taste of real food that isn’t overly sweet. This way you’re reducing your intake of added sugar, as well as not needing to replace it with artificial sweeteners. Here’s few tips:
- Try having ½ teaspoon less sugar in your cuppa.
- Try reducing a ¼ or more cup of the sugar called for in some recipes.
- Try diluting fruit juice/sweet drinks with water until you no longer need juice…. water is always best!l
- If you really must use sweeteners try stevia in its natural leaf form either fresh or dried, but again gradually reduce your amounts until your taste buds no longer need the sweetness
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