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Are Artificial Sweeteners Really That Bad?

You probably know the negative health effects of eating too much sugar, especially added “refined sugars" like what you’ll find in sodas, candy, breakfast cereals, cookies and other baked goods, just to name a few. Added sugar is hiding just about everywhere in the grocery store.

The problem is that ingesting refined sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin, and increases your risk for a whole host of health issues down the line. The most common being those associated with weight gain.

It’s an old problem, really. And long ago, one of the food industry’s responses to the demand for lower-calorie foods (that still taste great), was to introduce artificial sweeteners.

The idea behind them was: sweetness, without the calories…

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...

So, let’s review the types of artificial sweeteners currently on the market and how they might affect us.

What I found was that 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.

So, today I just want to specifically discuss the "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).

How Do Artificial Sweeteners Effect Our Health?

Negative health effects from artificial sweeteners have been cited since the day they first were introduced, and while many studies show effects, others don't. Cancer? Maybe yes, maybe no. Heart disease? Maybe yes, maybe no. However, it’s interesting to note that that much of the research in favor of artificial sweeteners has been on animals, which may or may not translate to people.

Yet, the most interesting effect of artificial sweeteners has to do with weight management.

One study found that people who tend to drink diet sodas have double the risk of gaining weight than those who did not.

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

Although these results don't apply equally to everyone, they do somehow seem ironic, don't they?

How Do Artificial Sweeteners Effect Our Weight?

Well, that's the million-dollar question! Right???

There are so many ideas out there that try to explain it, and I hate to have to admit the reality is we don’t know conclusively. (groan…)

What I have learned is that the effects artificial sweeteners may have might not be uniform and may play out differently from one person to the next.

  • Is it because people feel that they can eat cake because they’ve switched to diet soda?

  • Perhaps it’s because the sweeteners change the taste preferences so that fruit starts to taste worse, and veggies taste even more off-putting?

  • Maybe artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for more ‘real’ sweets?

  • It might even be that the sweet taste of these artificial sweeteners can signal our body to release insulin to lower our blood sugar. Then, because we didn’t actually ingest any ‘real’ sugar, our blood sugar levels become too low, to the point of creating sugar cravings.

  • Some even say (and at least one animal study suggests) that saccharin may inspire addictive tendencies toward it.

  • Maybe there is even a more complex response that involves our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels.

Here’s My Bottom Line:

We all need to come to understand that added sugar is not good for us. It’s a tough realization, I know, and it’s compounded by the fact that the solution may not be to replace them all with artificial sweeteners.

I would 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.

Try having ½ teaspoon less of sugar in your hot morning drink. Try reducing a ¼ cup of the sugar called for in some recipes. Try diluting juice with flat or sparkling water.

You'll live sweeter for it, and your body will thank you!

Here's to learning something new, and always moving toward a better you...


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