Although artificial sweeteners are technically sugar free, are they actually any better for you than regular sugar? These sugar free substitutes are usually created in a lab and often do more harm than good. Artificial sweeteners can even contribute to the very problem they are trying to combat…
“I’ll have a hamburger, French fries, some ice cream, and a diet soda.” For years, people have lived under the illusion that replacing sugar with fake sugar was somehow the healthier option. However, when having a diet soda increases the waistline and causes disease, the illusion is confronted with the stark naked truth. Sweeteners or sugar substitutes are not only unhealthy, they can be deleterious to one’s health.
What are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners can be chemically produced or exist in nature. They have been used as a substitute for sugar because they cannot be absorbed the body and therefore have no caloric value. Examples include aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame potassium and sucralose. These are more commonly sold as equal, nutrasweet, splenda, sweet ‘n low. One would assume that using these sweeteners in place of sugar would help in the fight against unwanted flab and help to regulate blood sugar imbalances and diabetes.
However, the research shows otherwise. Below are 3 dangers of artificial sweeteners that will leave you reaching for water instead of that diet soft drink.
3 Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners:
1. Artificial Sweeteners Alter the Gut Microbiome and Cause Glucose Intolerance
For those that do not know what the microbiome is, simply put, it is the collection of probiotics, bacteria, parasites, viruses, and fungi that we are all host to.
To give you an idea of how important they are and how much they impact our health, we have more bacteria in our bodies than we do human cells. These tiny creatures are responsible for either boosting the immune system (as eighty percent of the immune system is found in the gut) or navigating the destruction of the body.
Because we want these microorganisms to work for us, instead of against us, it is essential that we avoid foods that increase “bad” bacteria.
In a 2014 study, researchers found that artificial sweeteners were able to alter the microbial metabolic pathways. This change in bacterial metabolism was linked to host susceptibility of metabolic disease and glucose intolerance in humans. In plain English, artificial sweeteners are capable of contributing to blood glucose imbalances via the gut microbiome.1
2. Consumption of Artificial Sweeteners Increases the Risk for Diabetes
It almost seems counter-intuitive to think that artificial sweeteners that do not have any calories can actually be linked to diabetes. However, mounting research shows that this is true.
A 2015 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that there was a 15 percent increase in developing diabetes with an increased frequency of artificially sweetened drinks.2
Given that artificial sweeteners can alter gut microbiota to create an environment of glucose intolerance in the body, the connection between diabetes and artificial sweetener consumption makes sense.
3. Artificial Sweeteners Lead to Weight Gain
In 2008, the San Antonio Heart Study was used to assess the relationship between drinking artificially sweetened beverages with long-term weight gain. 3,682 participants were followed over the course of a decade. Researchers found that consuming greater than 21 artificially sweetened beverages per week was associated with nearly doubled risk for overweight and obesity.3
At the end of the day, it is better to train your taste buds to do without a sweet taste than to find ways to replace it. The brain responds to a sweet taste whether it is artificial or not in the same way. Using artificial sweeteners on a regular basis alters hormonal regulation of appetite and simply increases ones appetite for more sweet foods, whether they are artificial or not.
Tips for breaking the artificial sweetener rut:
- Eat real, whole foods. A lot of the time, simply making an effort to eat unprocessed, whole foods is the key to adjusting the taste buds to want real food over sugar or fake sugar. Mix good fast like avocado or olive oil with plenty of fresh veggies and wild-caught fish or pasture-raised meats to increase nutrient-density and to regulate appetite-controlling hormones.
- Make water your drink of choice. The easiest way to avoid artificially sweetened beverages is to replace them all with water. Keeping well hydrated boosts the metabolism and controls hunger. You can add berries or lemon to water for added taste.
- There are many useful tips to make sugar cravings go away. If you’re feeling the need to eat something sweet often, you can get my FREE guide 6 Easy Tips to Quit Sugar here.
- It’s ok to eat something sweet on occasion, just make sure you keep to to every once in a while. Use natural sweeteners like honey or coconut sugar. If you are a sugar addict and need to avoid dietary sources of sugar or if you are keto, using stevia or monk fruit sweetener on occasion is ok, just don’t make it a habit. Check out my sugar free recipes here.
About The Author Tina Christoudias, The Thyroid Dietician
Tina Christoudias is a Harvard-trained registered dietitian with nearly 18 years of experience as a nutrition counselor. Having had personal experience with hypothyroidism, she specializes in diet protocols for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and hypothyroidism and has recently published her book, Tired of Feeling Tired? She is a strong advocate of the Paleo diet and is an Autoimmune Protocol Certified Coach.
- Fowler, S.P., Williams, K., Resendez, R.G., Hunt, K.J., Hazuda, H.P. and Stern, M.P., 2008. Fueling the obesity epidemic? Artificially sweetened beverage use and long‐term weight gain. Obesity, 16(8), pp.1894-1900.
- Pliego-Rivero, F.B., Sosa-García, B.C., Otero, G.B. and Oros-Pantoja, R.B., 2017. The Non-Caloric Sweeteners Aspartame, Sucralose and Stevia sp. Induce Specific but Differential Responses to Compartmentalized Adipose Tissue Accumulation. The FASEB Journal, 31(1 Supplement), pp.639-46.
- Suez, J., Korem, T., Zeevi, D., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Thaiss, C.A., Maza, O., Israeli, D., Zmora, N., Gilad, S., Weinberger, A. and Kuperman, Y., 2014. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature, 514(7521), p.181.
- Yarmolinsky, J., Duncan, B.B., Chambless, L.E., Bensenor, I.M., Barreto, S.M., Goulart, A.C., Santos, I.S., Diniz, M.D.F.S. and Schmidt, M.I., 2015. Artificially Sweetened Beverage Consumption Is Positively Associated with Newly Diagnosed Diabetes in Normal-Weight but Not in Overweight or Obese Brazilian Adults–3. The Journal of nutrition, 146(2), pp.290-297.
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