What if I told you that I could make whatever you’re baking, eating, or drinking taste infinitely sweeter without adding any calories? Sound too good to be true? Well, it is. But this is the very promise that companies made when they started producing aspartame, sucralose, and other artificial sweeteners.
Given the fact that excess calories are associated with obesity, perhaps their intentions were good. If we eliminate calories, we’ll eliminate obesity! But research has found some unsettling side effects of these sweeteners, suggesting that they may have done more harm than good.
Why Artificial Sweeteners Aren’t So Sweet
While there are a number of chemical names for artificial sweeteners, you’re probably more familiar with brand names like Sweet N’ Low, Splenda, Truvia, and Equal. According to a 2015 article in the scientific journal Appetite, artificial sweeteners currently approved in the U.S. range from being 200 to 20,000 times sweeter than actual sugar. Here are just some of the problems artificial sweeteners can cause:
They trick your body.
We have specific taste receptors in our mouths that become activated when we eat something sweet, which warn our bodies that sugar—and energy—is coming. But since artificial sweeteners are devoid of energy, our body starts to say, “Oh, I guess ‘sweet’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘energy,’” and its physiological responses to sweetness become far less efficient—even when sugar is consumed, according to the article in Appetite.
2. They alter your gut microbia.
Within our digestive tract live trillions of microbes—bacteria that help us digest our food. According to an article written by Scientific American, one study suggested that “artificial sweeteners enhance the populations of gut bacteria that are more efficient at pulling energy from our food and turning that energy into fat.” In other words, bacteria in our gut can determine whether we store our energy or break it down, and artificial sweeteners favour the energy-storage kind. Not good.
3. They change your taste buds.
As we discussed earlier, artificial sweeteners are much more potent than natural sugar. According to an article in Harvard Health, “Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes.” Said differently, if you’re used to hyper-sweet flavours in pops or candies, the natural sweetness in fruit will likely taste super bland (even though they’re not). This would be ever-so-clear if you eliminated all sugar from your diet before biting into a cupcake a week later. Trust me, that cupcake would seem more sugary than you can even imagine since your taste buds are simply not used to that amount of sweetness.
4. You need more and more sweetness to feel satisfied.
When you eat something sweet, receptors in your brain are activated that produce pleasure-inducing chemicals like dopamine and hormones like and leptin, which tell your brain when you’re full. Like a heroin addict who constantly needs a higher and higher dose to feel the same effects, a person used to the potent taste of artificial sweeteners will need a lot of sugar to activate the same reward centres in his or her brain. In other words, you’ll need two scoops of ice cream to feel satisfied versus just a small one.
5. They increase insulin levels.
A small 2013 study published in Diabetes Care highlighted that sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda) can lead to a 20% increase in insulin levels! Refresher: Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas and is in charge of getting glucose out of your bloodstream and into your muscle, liver, and fat tissue cells. Excess insulin secretion isn’t just linked to type II diabetes, but it also prevents the use of fat as an energy source. So, constantly having too much insulin in your system can lead to weight gain.
NOTE: The researchers of the study in Diabetes Care acknowledged that while more studies need to be done, sucralose is more than just a calorie- and consequence-free sweetener!
6. More sweeteners, more cravings.
As we said, insulin is in charge of getting glucose (or sugar) out of your bloodstream, which causes your blood sugar levels to drop. This is a good thing after we’ve just eaten a meal because the glucose from that food does need to leave our bloodstream. But when we consume artificial sweeteners, insulin gets rid of glucose that doesn’t need to leave our bloodstream. In other words, we experience an unnecessary blood sugar dip. And what does that lead to? Hunger and additional cravings. As such, you’ll crave more foods and experience a ton of blood sugar fluctuations.
The Bottom Line
While I understand the intention behind consuming artificial sweeteners, they’re actually really not that great. You’re better off consuming natural sweeteners like honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, or coconut sugar. THAT BEING SAID, this doesn’t mean you should go chugging a bottle of maple syrup as a reward for putting down the Splenda; in reality, reducing your intake of all sugars will yield the most benefits.
You Tell Me!
What do you use to naturally sweeten your food and/or drinks? Let me know in the comments below?