Artificial sweeteners can be found in many processed foods and ‘sugar-free’ snacks or beverages. Common artificial sweeteners include Acesulfame-K, asparatame, neotame, saccharin, sucralose and sorbitol. A lot of “diabetic appropriate” foods contain these sweeteners, promising to have little or no impact on blood sugar levels and weight gain. The food industry has capitalised on this new technology and advertised artificially sweetened foods under the guise of “weight-loss” foods or beverages.
But are artificial sweeteners actually safe and beneficial to our health, or are they harmful?
As a Nutritional Health Coach, I implore my clients to avoid foods containing table sugar, agave nectar, and other sweeteners. Some clients ask me whether consuming ‘sugar-free’ or ‘diet’ beverages and foods is a healthy substitute for refined sugar. The unfortunate answer to this question is no, artificial sweeteners are not healthy substitutes, and in many cases could be causing further harm. Let’s look at why...
Implications of Artificial Sweeteners
Weight management is the primary reason people consume artificial sweetened food over naturally sweetened food, or food containing table sugar. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding around the effect of artificial sweeteners on weight. A study that examined 3682 individuals who consumed artificial sweetened drinks over a period of 7 - 8 years found that these individuals BMI increased by 47% in comparison to those who did not consume artificially sweetened drinks. Furthermore, a comparative study observing rats who consumed artificially sweetened yoghurt and rats who consumed naturally sweetened yoghurt found that the former group gained more weight than the later. Ain and Khan suggest that this may be due to confusion experienced by the body when the connection between sweetness and calorie intake is lost, causing biochemical regulatory changes. Bottom line; artificial sweeteners can cause gain weight.
Dr. David S. Ludwig from Harvard Medical School released a paper in 2011 suggesting that because artificial sweeteners are extremely sweet they may desensitize people to sweetness in general, subsequently causing healthy nutritious foods to lose their appeal. This would trigger people to turn to refined carbohydrates or processed foods like take-out for increased flavor, hereby allowing ‘empty calories’ to creep back into their diet. He also suggests that these sweeteners might be directly stimulating the development of increased fat cells. Although further research in this area is necessary, current evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners should not be relied upon as an alternative to natural sugar for weight management.
The secondary traditional appeal of artificial sweeteners is their lack of association with blood glucose and diabetes. However, a 2014 study demonstrates how artificially sweetened foods and beverages enhances our risk of glucose intolerance and disrupts the balance of bacteria in the digestive system. Glucose intolerance is a pre-diabetic state where blood sugar levels are abnormally high. It is the foundation for all metabolic health issues and is associated with insulin resistance. Suez et al show that glucose intolerance caused by artificial sweeteners has an adverse effect on our microbiota. This means that normal intestinal bacterial balance is obstructed, subsequently having further adverse effects on our overall health. Bottom line; artificial sweeteners are directly correlated with an increased risk of diabetes and glucose intolerance; they are not our meal ticket out of satisfying our ‘sweet tooth’ at no cost to our health.
Other issues association with artificial sweeteners is the body’s inability to completely absorb them, which subsequently causes increased bloating, exacerbates Irritable Bowel Syndrome, constipation, diarrhoea, and other digestive issues. Another line of thought hypothesizes that artificial sweeteners cause chemical imbalance in the body. This means that non-caloric artificial sweeteners actually slow down metabolic rate, leading to decreased energy production, and thus a decreased ability for the body to burn body fat for fuel. It is hard enough to train the body to burn fat for fuel without the added burden of artificial sweeteners!
Bottom line; avoid artificially sweetened foods at all costs. Consume fruit, raw honey, or 85% dark chocolate to satisfy your sweet cravings, or any of my delicious nourishing sweet treats!
Feed, nourish, value yourself.
Ain, Q, and S A Khan. "Artificial Sweeteners: Safe Or Unsafe?". The Journal Of The Pakistan Medical Association (2015): n. pag. Print.
Ludwig, David S. "Are Artificial Sweeteners A Good Alternative To Sugar?". Harvard Health Letter (2011): n. pag. Print.
Suez, Jotham et al. "Artificial Sweeteners Induce Glucose Intolerance By Altering The Gut Microbiota". Nature (2014): n. pag. Web.