The Bitter Truth about Artificial Sweeteners

Jun 9th, 2015

Category: Nutrition

The Bitter Truth about Artificial Sweeteners

If you are among the calorie conscious dieters that opt to consume artificially sweetened food and beverages to save yourself from those “extra” calories, you may want to think again.  While the idea behind calorie free (non-nutritive) sweeteners seems logical enough, research on rats and humans suggests that these “diet” foods somehow changes how the body metabolizes these sweet foods, from how it is perceived in the brain, to how many calories are expended after the fact. It seems that just because it’s sweet like sugar does not make guilt-free, in fact, it may actually be much worse for you than real sugar.
A 2008 human study conducted on more than 18,000 people found that consuming one or more diet soft drinks per day increases the risk of health problems and metabolic disorders (weight gain) by a whopping 30 to 40 percent. Add to this the laundry list of artificially sweetened foods and beverages that are consumed on a daily basis in the US and it is no surprise that over 60 percent of the American population suffer from metabolic disorders and are overweight or obese. Weight gain increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.


How Sweeteners Make Us Fat

Research conducted at Purdue University shows that a group of test subjects fed artificial sweeteners subsequently consumed three times the calories of those given regular sugar. The study suggests that it is far less fattening to eat real sugar than artificial sweeteners, although eating regular sugar also has health consequences. It seems that how we eat may depend on automatic, conditioned responses to food that are possibly beyond our control.
Remember the famous study of Pavlov’s dogs? You know, the dog’s that salivated at the sound of a bell in anticipation of food. Animals are programmed to – upon consumption of sweet foods – anticipate lots of calories, as found in nature. When animals in the aforementioned Purdue study were fed saccharin sweetened (no calories) yogurt, there seemed to be a disruption in how the animals metabolized their food compared to those fed calorically dense (sugar) food, hence their desire to eat more, resulting in eventual weight gain. The authors suggest that a sweet taste may cause animals to anticipate the calorie content of food, and eating artificial sweeteners with little or no calories undermines this connection, leading to energy imbalance by increasing food intake or reducing energy expenditure.


What This Means For You

Artificial sweeteners are often recommended by conventional medical doctors, dieticians as well as the American Diabetes Association because they are seen as acceptable forms of sweeteners, and are GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  This is a major problem as people are unknowingly consuming seemingly “healthy” foods and beverages that cause them to crave excess calories, binge on unhealthy carbohydrates, and contributes to our obesity epidemic.
Food manufacturers are well aware of the fact that consuming artificial sweeteners will only lead to an increased desire for “sweet” consumption, evidenced by the growing number of food and beverage products containing these artificial sweeteners. It’s important to read labels and know what you’re looking for, as common food products containing these artificial ingredients range from diet sodas, yogurts, cookies, bars, shakes, chewing gum, sugar-free candies, and even flavored water.

What To Eat Instead

Sugar or not, it’s important to understand that humans are not meant to be consuming the quantities of “sweet” and carbohydrate-dense foods as typical in the standard American diet (SAD). The dependence on convenient foods has led to increased reliance on processed sugary snacks that is a major contributor to our ever-growing waistlines.
Bottom line is if it is man-made and tastes sweet, it will negatively affect your waistline and potentially your long-term health. However, if you do decide to use an artificial sweetener, it seems that Stevia will provide the most bang for your buck. Stevia is an herb that grows wild in shrubs from Paraguay and Brazil that has been used in South America and Japan for hundreds of years. This sweet herb has no associated health risks (as of yet), unlike the man-made sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, etc. But be aware that our human brain is not easily fooled. Often even “healthy” artificial sweeteners like Stevia can cause people to chronically crave and overeat more carbohydrate throughout the day.