Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for Me?

Apr 19, 2019

 

You Will Learn

  • Why you get ambiguous answers about artificial sweeteners.
  • If artificial sweeteners make you want more food.
  • If artificial sweeteners can help you lose weight.
  • Risks associated with eating artificial sweeteners.
  • The best artificial sweetener to use.  

 

Diet or Regular?

We’ve all been faced with the decision to drink a regular pop or a diet pop. If I have the regular pop I’ll be having all that sugar but what about the chemicals in the diet pop…something doesn’t feel right about artificial sweeteners…but they seem like the lesser of two evils so I’ll have the diet.  

That’s how my internal thought process goes!  

My hope is that this article will provide some clarity on the most frequently asked questions I get about artificial sweeteners to help you make better, more informed decisions about what you eat and drink.  

 

Why You Get Ambiguous Answers About Artificial Sweeteners  

When you ask a health care professional their opinion about artificial sweeteners, many people will give you a wishy-washy answer. It turns out that may be for good reason because the research is very mixed.  

Most of the research out there on artificial sweeteners is not considered “high quality." 

A recent article from July, 2018 performed a comprehensive review of the literature published thus far on health risks associated with artificial sweeteners.  

The authors found that many of the studies had a small sample size and short follow-up period. Further, many studies failed to identify which artificial sweetener (and the dose) they were testing.2  

 

Do Artificial Sweeteners Make Me Eat More Food?  

There is conclusive research that shows non-caloric sweeteners are NOT known to suppress appetite, and therefore would NOT reduce the motivation to eat.1  

Though artificial sweeteners provide sweet taste, many researchers believe that your brain may not register artificial sweeteners as having a filling effect.4  

In other words, your brain thinks it is getting food, but when there are no calories to tell your brain you are full, you turn to actual food to get those calories.  

One study found that artificial sweeteners are linked to increased appetite and cravings for sugary food.6  

Most artificial sweeteners are hundreds of times MORE sweet than table sugar. Consuming them often will alter your taste buds so foods that are naturally sweet, like fruit, won't taste good anymore. Your pallet will be altered to crave the really sweet taste of artificial sweeteners.  

 

Can Artificial Sweeteners Help Me Lose Weight?

There is no conclusive evidence on this point. Some of the research says yes, some says no, some says consuming artificial sweeteners will contribute to weight gain.  

It is important to remember that artificial sweeteners are usually found in foods that are not that nutritious to begin with. When losing weight (and in general) you should be getting most of your food from whole, real, nutritious food.  

In theory, substituting non-caloric and lower caloric sweeteners for sugar should reduce caloric intake and thereby the risk of obesity and its consequences.  

However, there are a number of reasons why increasing use of non-caloric and lower caloric sweeteners might not lead to the expected weight loss.  

Often when we eat something that has been artificially sweetened, we play a mental game with ourselves that we can “make up those calories” elsewhere and eat something else instead.  

Or, we may justify that because we had a diet pop instead of regular we don’t need to exercise that day.   

 

Are There Risks Associated with Eating Artificial Sweeteners? 

Several studies have shown that regular and frequent consumption of diet pop has increased health risks.  

In one study, women who consumed an average of two or more artificially sweetened beverages per day (24 ounces/day or more) had an elevated risk of all strokes, coronary heart disease, and all-cause mortality compared with those who consumed less than one artificially sweetened beverage per week.6  

The only people for whom aspartame (a type of artificial sweetener) is a medical problem are those with the genetic condition known as phenylkenoturia (PKU), a disorder of amino acid metabolism.  

Aside from side effects like headaches or digestion problems, no credible research has linked artificial sweeteners to serious illness. However, most of the current research has not studied long-term effects. In my opinion the true verdict is still up for debate and needs more research.  

 

What is the Best Artificial Sweetener to Use?  

While there are so many artificial sweetener options, I feel I should recommend just one as not to confuse anyone further. In the future I may give each popular artificial sweetener its own article, there is that much information I could cover!  

For cooking and baking, nothing will bake or taste like sugar. I’ve found Swerve to be a decent substitute. Pros: it is a natural, zero-calorie sweetener that measures cup for cup like sugar. Cons: it has a slight minty aftertaste and is a little more expensive.  

 

Bottom Line  

In small and infrequent amounts, artificial sweeteners do not appear to be associated with weight gain or other illness. But when consumed regularly in large amounts your risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and death increase.  

There is ample research that shows the dangers of too much sugar. Pop and other sugary beverages are truly terrible for your health. The sugar in them essentially turns straight into fat once inside your body and increases your risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  

If you are currently drinking regular pop, switching to diet would be better, but switching to a naturally sweetened beverage or just water would be your best choice.  

 

Action Items  

  • Do a quick self-check. How many servings of regular pop due you have a week? How many servings of diet pop due to have per week?
  • If you like pop because of the carbonation, challenge yourself to find an alternative carbonated beverage that doesn’t have sugar or artificial sweetenerS like Bubly or La Croix sparkling waters.
  • How much water you are drinking in a day? A good indicator of your hydration is the color of your urine. It should be clear or light yellow. Aim to get at least half of your body weight in ounces of water per day.  

 

References

1. Bellisle, F., and A. Drewnowski. "Intense sweeteners, energy intake and the control of body weight." European journal of clinical nutrition61.6 (2007): 691 

2. Mosdøl, Annhild, et al. "Hypotheses and evidence related to intense sweeteners and effects on appetite and body weight changes: A scoping review of reviews." PloS one13.7 (2018): e0199558. 

3. Mossavar-Rahmani, Yasmin, et al. "Artificially sweetened beverages and stroke, coronary heart disease, and all-cause mortality in the Women’s Health Initiative." Stroke50.3 (2019): 555-562.

4. Smeets, Paul AM, et al. "Functional magnetic resonance imaging of human hypothalamic responses to sweet taste and calories." The American journal of clinical nutrition82.5 (2005): 1011-1016.

5. Wiebe, Natasha, et al. "A systematic review on the effect of sweeteners on glycemic response and clinically relevant outcomes." BMC medicine9.1 (2011): 123.

6. Yang, Qing. “Gain weight by "going diet?" Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings: Neuroscience 2010.” The Yale journal of biology and medicinevol. 83,2 (2010): 101-8.

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