Added sugar is hiding just about everywhere in the grocery store – meats, juices, baked goods, commercial cereals, yogurt, crackers, cookies, granola bars, just to name a few.
The two main reasons? Sugar improves taste. You see, most of shelf stable food is dead and laden with chemicals, and low fat items have zero flavour (fat = flavour). So manufacturers add sugar to hide or enhance taste. Next, sugar is addictive – the more you eat, the more you crave, and that’s good for sales.
Most of you know that excess sugar can lead to weight gain. If you participated in my recent carb crush programs, you learned about the sugar and insulin connection, leading to carb cravings, weight gain, insulin resistance, and other health issues.
However, many of you may not know how artificial sweeteners impact your weight and health, or that recent science shows artificial sweeteners can change your genetics and ability to metabolize fat.
Artificial sweeteners are the Holy Grail of the food industry. They theoretically help people maintain a healthy body weight while reducing risk for obesity, heart disease and diabetes. I mean, you’re NOT taking in sugar, so your risk is lower, right?
Not so. Read on to learn why zero calorie does not mean zero harm.
Types of artificial sweeteners
Sugar substitutes fall into several categories. They all have a sweet taste and contain fewer calories than refined sugar and natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup.
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic chemicals where a TINY bit tastes very, very sweet. They're also known as "non-nutritive sweeteners" (meaning, they have no nutritional or biological value) and include things like:
Saccharin (Sweet & Low)
Aspartame (Equal & NutraSweet)
In the US, the recommended guidelines for daily artificial sweetener consumption ranges from 25 to 75 packets a day, depending on the product. Keep this in mind as we explore the health effects of artificial sweeteners.
To make things even more complicated, there are artificial sweeteners from natural sources. The most common are stevia and xylitol. Like it's chemical counterparts, these plant-based alternatives deliver a major dose of sweet in a tiny dose.
Health effects of artificial sweeteners
Negative health effects from artificial sweeteners are cited all over the place, and while many studies have show effects over the years, others have surfaced to squash them. One year, sweeteners are fine to consume, the next, they cause cancer, soldiers from the middle east are experiencing higher amounts of PTSD because the of the diet coke that was sitting in the sun (you're not supposed to heat aspartame), Alzheimer's is related to not only teflon pans, but also artificial sweeteners. It’s confusing.
With that in mind, I'm sharing two recent studies that I think will interest you. Links to the reports are below in references.
In 2017, the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported results of a combination of studies that followed 400,000 people over 10 years, looking primarily at weight and BMI, and secondarily at cardiovascular implications of artificial sweeteners, including STEVIA. Seven of the studies reviewed were randomized, controlled trials (a high standard for research). Results show those who consumed artificial sweeteners daily had a moderate increase in weight and waist circumference, and were put at higher risk for health issues like weight gain, obesity, diabetes and heart disease (2017). This makes sense when you consider the next study.
In 2018, researchers from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Medical College of Wisconsin found that when you consume artificial sweeteners like aspartame and acesulfame potassium on a daily basis, it can change how your body metabolizes fat at the genetic level. Results were presented and published in Experimental Biology 2018. Sweeteners alter how the body clears fats from the blood stream. They performed their research on rats as well as human cell cultures.
This same research group identified biological reasons as to why consuming artificial sweeteners on a daily basis makes you susceptible to developing metabolic syndrome (high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar).
How do artificial sweeteners affect your body?
You have learned that artificial sweeteners can potentially change the genetic workings of how your body metabolizes fats. You have also learned that artificial sweeteners potentially put you at higher risk for gaining weight and developing metabolic syndrome. That's huge.
If you are still an artificial sweetener kinda person, please consider some other things:
Do diet sodas or artificial sweeteners give you permission to indulge daily (wine, cake, chocolate)? If so, why do you need that indulgence? Is it the taste you're addicted to or the habit?
Have sweeteners changed your taste preferences over time so fruit and vegetables taste worse or not as vibrant?
Did you know that the “sweet” in sweeteners signals to your body to release insulin even though you're not consuming sugar? With a dose of sweet taste, the body thinks it’s about to receive an energy source (sugar) so it releases insulin to do it's job of shuttling energy into cells. But because you didn’t actually ingest sugar, your insulin drops suddenly to the point where you now need an energy source to balance. You get sugar cravings within a few hours (if not sooner) and the cycle starts again.
Maybe there is even a more complex response that involves our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels? Science is only JUST starting to look at intestinal health and influence. We know how sugar can impact gut microbes, but what about artificial sweeteners?
Understand that added sugar is not good for you, but the solution may not be to replace them all with artificial sweeteners on a daily basis, including stevia. It is not the Holy Grail.
Why not try to simply reduce your sugar intake, so you naturally re-train your palate and start enjoying the taste of real food that isn't overly sweet? This way, you reduce your intake of added sugar and don’t need to replace it with artificial sweeteners.
Try having ½ teaspoon less of sugar in your hot morning drink, or use a natural source like honey or maple syrup so your insulin doesn't get confused.
Try reducing a ¼ cup of the sugar called for in some recipes.
Try diluting juice with water.
Use "natural" sweeteners likes stevia and xylitol in moderation.
And while a higher fat diet is NOT for everyone, following the protocol (while eliminating grains) can work wonders for retraining your body how to process sugars, regulate insulin and tap into fat stores as a source of energy. In a very short amount of time, you will kick your sweetener habit for good because you will FEEL good.
If you are interested in a free 5 day reset, send me a note and I’ll set you up! Your body will thank you!
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