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The Truth About Artificial Sweeteners

Posted on May 13, 2014

Most of us are familiar with artificial sweeteners. One of the simplest things we are taught to do to lose weight is to switch from drinking regular soda to diet soda. The question is, are artificial sweeteners really all they are cracked up to be?

Some of the more common artificial sweeteners that are known are:

  1. Aspartame - found in Equal and NutraSweet
  2. Saccharin - found in SugarTwin and Sweet’N Low
  3. Sucralose - found in Splenda

What does it mean to be an “artificial sweetener”? An artificial sweetener is a sugar substitute that might be taken from a naturally occurring substance, such as herbs or perhaps even sugar.  Sucralose, for example, is derived from sugar. Artificial sweeteners are actually sweeter than regular sugar.

Artificial sweeteners are often preferred to sugar because artificial sweeteners add no calories to your meal.  Because of this, artificial sweeteners are often marketed as helping control weight, which is their big selling point. For diabetics, sweeteners can be preferred because they usually don’t raise blood sugar levels since they are not considered carbohydrates.

Taking all of this into consideration, it seems that artificial sweeteners are the obvious choice as a replacement to regular sugar. But there is information that is coming out that shows some of the negative aspects of artificial sweeteners.

When the body takes in artificial sweeteners, it thinks that it is consuming real sugar, even though it isn’t. This causes confusion within the body when it tries to metabolize the artificial sweetener. The body expects to encounter real sugar, and when your body realizes that there isn’t any real sugar, it can cause cravings for real sugar. In short, artificial sweeteners can cause your body to crave real sugar. In a study done with rats by psychologist Susie Swithers and Terry Davidson, it was found out that “rats who were occasionally given artificially sweetened drinks were more likely to pig out on a chocolate snack later on. Rats that consistently drank naturally sweetened liquids were more restrained.”1 What should you take away from this? While artificial sweeteners don’t have calories in them, they can cause you to crave more foods that have sugar in them.

Another negative effect of artificial sweeteners is that it doesn’t help you lose weight. A University of Texas Health Science Center study found that the more diet sodas a person drank, the greater their risk of becoming overweight. If diet sodas don’t have any calories, how can they increase weight? It goes back to the body thinking it is ingesting real sugar, when it isn’t. You crave sugar, and then ingest more food to satisfy that craving.2

The scary thing about artificial sweeteners? Scientists have known since the 1980s that artificial sweetener use causes weight gain. And yet they are still marked as being “healthy”. The San Antonio Heart Study looked at 3,682 adults over a span of 7 to 8 years in the 1980s. The results of the study showed that patients that consumed artificial sweeteners had an increase in Body Mass Index (BMI, which is a measure based off of a persons height and weight).  In the early 1980s the American Cancer Society conducted a study that included 78,694 women. The results of this study showed that study subjects who consumed artificial sweeteners gained more weight than those subjects that did not consume artificial sweeteners.3

Another issue with artificial sweeteners is how addictive they can be. A study was done with rats that involved rats being able to choose between water sweetened with saccharin (an artificial sweetener) or intravenous cocaine. Almost every single rat chose the saccharin over cocaine.4

One final piece of information deals with the risk of getting type 2 diabetes while drinking diet soda that has artificial sweeteners instead of regular sugar. A study done in 2008 showed that “consumption of diet soda at least daily was associated with significantly greater risks of select incident metabolic syndrome components and type 2 diabetes.”5

So with all this information, what should you do when having to choose between using artificial sweeteners or regular sugar? The answer is simply in some cases. Don’t have either. If you are choosing between a regular soda and a diet soda, drink water instead.

References

  1. http://sciencenetlinks.com/science-news/science-updates/artificial-sweeteners/
  2. http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20050613/drink-more-diet-soda-gain-more-weight
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892765/
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1931610/
  5. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/32/4/688

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