The Truth Behind Artificial Sweeteners

The Truth Behind Artificial Sweeteners
November 15, 2017

My friend Sue just finished her second diet ice tea and it’s 10am. Because of work demands, she also consumes about three cups of coffee per day. But nothing to worry, she told me the other day, “everything I consume is sugar free”. Sue is a diet-conscious career woman and even though her waistline continues to widen and her energy is lower than ever she relies on diet drinks, artificial sugar sweeteners, caffeine alongside diet crackers and gums to get her through the day.

Sue knows the negative health effects of eating too much sugar, especially “added sugars” like in regular soda, most juices, candy, baked goods, and many commercially-available cereals, just to name a few. She also knows that added sugar is hiding just about everywhere in the grocery store hence why she resorts to “sugar free” everything.

It’s true, ingesting refined sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin, and increases your risk for a whole host of issues (weight gain being the least damaging).

The food industry has been adjusting to the growing awareness on this fact and its response to the demand for lower-sugar foods that still taste great, has been artificial sweeteners.

The idea behind artificial sweeteners is that you can still get the sweetness, without the calories; like when you have a diet soda versus 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, memory loss or obesity.

But, it doesn’t always work out the way we think it will…

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.

Today we’ll specifically discuss “artificial sweeteners,” which are synthetic chemicals where a tiny bit tastes very sweet.

They’re also known as “non-nutritive sweeteners,” and include things like:

● 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, and while many studies show effects, others are not so clear. Cancer? There is a link only some of the time. Heart disease? Could be circumstantial. It is also worth mentioning that much of the research has been on animals, which may or may not translate to people; further studies are needed.

It’s also worth mentioning the irony between artificial sweeteners and weight.

A reputable study found that people who prefer to drink diet sodas have double the risk of gaining weight than those who didn’t.

Another study has shown an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.

These results seem ironic, don’t they?

How do artificial sweeteners affect our bodies?

Now that’s a million-dollar question!

I’m not going to lie to you, there are a lot of us (truly well-intentioned nutrition geeks) looking for a definitive answer to this question, but the reality is there is not one answer.

Here is what I have confirmed through scientific research and observation with my clients:

  • There is a tendency for some to feel that they can eat cake or have that double bacon cheeseburger because they’ve switched to diet drinks.
  • These sweeteners can change our taste buds so that fruit starts to taste too bland and raw veggies are not palatable anymore.
  • Studies suggest that artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for more sweets by awakening our sweet tooth. Makes sense right?
  • There is evidence that the sweet taste of artificial sweeteners signals 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.
  • Some even say (and at least one animal study suggests) that saccharin inspires addictive tendencies toward it. In other words, the more you have the more your want.

Conclusion

We all know that added real sugar is not good for us. And despite not having one definitive study showing the dangers of artificial sweeteners I strongly believe that the solution is to stay away from them.

I recommend reducing your sugar intake, so you naturally retrain your palate and start enjoying the taste of real natural foods such as fruits, vegetables and nuts. It takes only 10 days for the body to replace our taste buds, so this is totally doable. This approach has a double benefit; you reduce your intake of added sugar, and the need to use artificial sweeteners will never be an issue.

Whether you are relying on artificial sweeteners or using real sugar you must consider eliminating both from your diet. Try having ½ the amount of sugar or sweetener in your morning drink. Try reducing a ¼ cup of the sugar called for in some recipes. If you drink bottled fruit juices or sweetened teas dilute them 50/50 with water.

The risks are just not worth it and your body will thank you!

 

References:

Artificial sweeteners: sugar-free, but at what cost?

How Artificial Sweeteners Affect Blood Sugar and Insulin

Research Review: Is Splenda safe?

The Unbiased Truth About Artificial Sweeteners

 

 

Recipe: Fiber-Rich Sweet Matcha Latte

Serves 1

1 teaspoon matcha powder
1.5 cup almond milk, unsweetened
2 dates (optional)

  1. Put the matcha powder in a mug and set aside.
  2. Puree dates with half of the almond milk in a blender until completely mixed.
  3. Combine the almond milk/date mix with the rest of the almond milk in a small pot.
  4. Heat the almond milk mix.
  5. When almond milk mix is hot, add about a ¼ cup to matcha powder and stir to combine.
  6. Add rest of the milk to mug.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can steep a chai tea bag in the milk if you prefer chai tea over matcha.

 

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