In my article entitled The Negative Impacts of Sugar on your Body, I discuss the health implications of consuming too much sugar and how you should minimize or avoid it in your diet. If you avoid sugar but still satisfy your sweet tooth by consuming foods containing artificial sweeteners, unfortunately they are no better for you than sugar. I’ll detail a few reasons in this article but first let me briefly touch on some general info relating to artificial sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners, also known as intense sweeteners since they are much sweeter than sucrose (table sugar), are a low or no calorie food additive used to replace sugar. Two of the most well-known artificial sweeteners approved for use in the EU, the U.S, and in Canada are aspartame (marketed under the brand name of ‘Nutrasweet’ and ‘Equal’) and sucralose (marketed under the name ‘Splenda’ and ‘Kaltame’).
They are promoted as being a “healthier” alternative to food products containing added sugar because they have no calories and supposedly are safe for diabetics. Although they are promoted as being a better alternative to sugar, they may not be that much better. Here’s why:
The primary dangers of artificial sweeteners:
a) They are appetite stimulants
While some people may think that they are saving calories by opting for artificially sweetened products, it’s actually counterproductive because artificial sweeteners actually stimulate your appetite. The reason for this is when we consume foods containing artificial sweeteners, our body does not receive the associated calories it is expecting to trigger enough of our hormone called leptin which informs our brains that we are “full”. As a result you continue to be hungry.
b) They may increase insulin levels
Some studies have shown that artificial sweeteners actually cause increased insulin levels by altering the composition of our gut flora (the bacteria in our guts that is responsible for healthy digestion and our immune system) as well as our body’s response to insulin. Although more research is required since there have not been many tests on human subjects as of yet, the studies so far seem to suggest that these artificial sweeteners may have an impact on insulin and blood sugar levels and therefore may not be a great alternative for diabetics or those who have metabolic syndrome.
c) They alter your perception of taste
If you regularly eat artificially sweetened foods, you’ll find that your perception of sweetness differs. Food that is naturally sweet, like fruit, may no longer seem sweet and regular vegetables may taste bland. This is because artificial sweeteners are so sweet your perception on what sweetness is really changes. Additionally, if you are consuming a lot of these artificially sweetened foods, then again, anything you eat that doesn’t contain artificial sweetener of some kind will not be as appetizing.
I have personally noticed this with friends and family members who have eliminated certain foods containing added artificial sweeteners (and added sugar for that matter). When they initially eat the unsweetened version they find it unappealing. But if they stick with it their taste buds soon became more sensitive and when they tried the sweetened version of the food they comment on how sweet it is and fake tasting and they can’t believe that they didn’t notice it. If you tend to consume something that has added artificial sugar or sugar and you can purchase the natural version without sugar (e.g. peanut butter), give it a try. You’ll find your taste buds will adjust and you’ll soon really enjoy, and prefer, the natural version.
d) They are “Frankenfood”
Artificial sweeteners are, well, artificial. They are manufactured in a lab – they do not exist in nature – hence my title Frankenfood (for Frankenstein). Some of you who know a bit about these artificial sweeteners may be thinking, yes true Tanya, but aspartame is derived from two amino acids – aspartic acid and phenylalanine – so that is hardly unnatural. The trouble is when aspartic acid is chemically isolated from its natural protein bound state, it becomes an excitotoxin – meaning it stimulates the nervous system.
There have been numerous studies citing negative side effects with artificial sweeteners. Of course there are also studies claiming their safety which is why they are still found in our beverages and other packaged goods. Although studies have been conducted claiming they are safe for human consumption, I question if we really understand how our bodies metabolize these artificial substances and how safe they truly are. Cigarettes, for example, have been approved despite the fact that they are addictive and linked to a whole host of negative effects on the body.
For me personally, if I had to choose between a product containing sugar and one with artificial sweetener, I would lean towards the one with sugar. Although sugar also comes with a host of negative health impacts, wherever possible, I tend to avoid artificial substances in my food.
So what’s a person to do if they have a sweet tooth or just want to enjoy sweetened foods every now and again?
Well, all is not lost! There are some really fantastic tasting natural sweeteners out there that actually provide nutrients too – and many of them are also lower on the glycemic index. In part three of my article series on sugar, I’ll list some of my top picks. So stay tuned!
To fitness with love,