artificial sweeteners

Years ago, for reasons I still can’t wrap my head around, I decided that sixteen calories of sugar in my coffee was too much and switched to artificial sweeteners. My sweet tooth grew, and, over the years, what started as a quarter packet of sweetener became almost a full pack until I was a Sweet-n-Low junkie. 

When I wised up and quit artificial sweeteners, it was hard to go back to just a teaspoon of sugar a day but, over the next six weeks, I dropped ten pounds. You might think that lowering your calorie intake by using artificial sweeteners would help you lose weight, but this couldn’t be less true. Currently, I don’t use any type of sugar in my coffee and feel strongly that getting off artificial sweeteners has improved my overall health.  

Artificial sweeteners have been shrouded in controversy ever since saccharin, the first no-cal sweetener, was discovered in 1878. Even then, public health advocates questioned whether these lab-created sweeteners were truly safe; saccharin, after all, was discovered by a chemist working with coal tar, a carcinogenic material.

Increased risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, neurological disorders, and headaches aside, researchers are finding new reasons these no-cal taste enhancers pose undue health risks without fulfilling the promise of helping you lose weight. 

Here are a few reasons to withdraw and avoid artificial sweeteners at all costs.

They trick your taste buds. Artificial sweeteners are hundreds, sometimes thousands of times sweeter than sugar. Sucralose, sold under the brand name Splenda, is 600 times sweeter than table sugar and neotame—an alternative to the dangerous aspartame—is 7000 times sweeter. This even applies to natural sugar substitutes; stevia, which comes from an herb, is 200 to 300 times sweeter. Anne Alexander, editor of Prevention magazine and author of The Sugar Smart Diet states: “Exposing your taste buds to these high-intensity sweeteners makes them less receptive to natural sources of sweetness, such as fruit.” When taste buds adapt to these sweeteners, you become more likely to seek out sweeter and sweeter foods. This can have disastrous results, namely adult-onset diabetes. A recent study from the University of Texas found that individuals who drank diet soda were sixty-five percent more likely to be overweight than those who drank no soda and, even more surprisingly, more likely to be overweight than those who drank regular soda.

They fool your gut. Optimizing gut health is essential to overall wellbeing, and eliminating artificial sweeteners is a huge step in the right direction.Susan Swithers, Ph.D., professor of behavioral neuroscience at Perdue University and lead researcher on artificial sweeteners, says that consuming super sweet, zero-calorie foods sends a signal to the gut that something high in calories is on the way, leaving it confused when that food doesn’t arrive. This damages the microbiome, which sets the stage for autoimmune conditions and obesity.  

They mess with your hormones. When you consume artificially sweetened foods, even ones with no calories, the body still releases insulin as if you have eaten sugar. Insulin leads to blood sugar highs and lows, which increases cravings. Dr. Swithers’ research suggests that artificial sweeteners also prevent the body from producing GLP-1, which controls blood sugar levels and feelings of being satisfied. This combination leads you to feel hungrier and therefore consume more food.

They make you overeat.  Artificially sweetened products or food can trick you into overeating because of the way they feel in the mouth. High-fat, high-sugar foods tend to be sweet and dense, signaling to the body that high-calorie foods are coming. Artificially sweetened foods are less dense and less satisfying, causing us to eat more.

If you really need a sweetener, consider safer options like stevia or Luo Han. Keep in mind, however, that if you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or carrying extra weight, you already have insulin sensitivity issues and would benefit from avoiding all sweeteners.  

Sugar runs through every cell in our bodies but getting the right kind of sugar is essential. Take advantage of fruit as a healthy option and make it your go-to to satisfy sweet cravings. 

Breaking a sweet-tooth habit likely requires two to three weeks of sugar avoidance. Then, reintroduce fruit. However, living in a state of deprivation is a setup for failure, so treat yourself once a week to a snack or dessert that you miss. Any more than once a week will have you back in the same boat. What have you got to lose? Maybe a future diagnosis like diabetes, or the twenty extra pounds you’ve been holding on to. 

Catherine Stack is owner, facilitator, and Doctor of Naturopathy at Journey II Health. She specializes in colon health and bio-identical hormone replacement and is a practicing staff midwife at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital. Her books, Free Yourself from a CONSTIPATED Life and PUSH: Labor & Delivery from the Inside Out are available on amazon.com. Visit cathistack.com for more information.

 

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