North Americans are increasing their consumption of artificial sweeteners at an alarming rate. They are now a $1.5-billion market and are becoming massively prevalent in our food supply. Artificial sweeteners are assumed to be the perfect solution to satisfy our sweet tooth with little-to-no caloric aftermath. Yet, we are continuing to pack on the pounds, as now over 69 percent of North Americans are classified as overweight. Coincidence?
Overwhelming evidence shows that artificial sweeteners actually promote weight gain, and are linked to a higher risk of diabetes, headaches, vision problems, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Artificial sweeteners are far more potent than table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit our tolerance for more complex tastes. What does this mean? People who routinely use artificial sweeteners may start to find less intensely sweet foods (such as fruit) less appealing and unsweet foods (such as vegetables) downright unpalatable. As a result, the use of artificial sweeteners can make you shun highly nutritious foods while consuming more artificially flavored foods with less nutritional value (like processed foods).
Many of the patients I have worked with to improve their overall health have found significant benefit in giving up these chemicals completely. Nearly all of these patients have lost weight in the weeks following the change, in addition to noticing improvements with symptoms such as headaches, heart palpitations, and insomnia.
If my personal beliefs and clinical experience are not enough to sway you, take these recent studies on the topic into consideration:
- Doctors compared two groups of rats: One consuming yogurt sweetened with glucose and the other with artificial sweetener. The rats consuming the artificial sweetener were unable to regulate their intake, leading to greater weight gain and more body fat as they had a greater overall consumption of calories. It appears that by avoiding sugar and using the fake stuff, the body is not able to regulate hunger and appetite, which leads to increased consumption.
- Animal studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may be addictive. In studies of rats who were exposed to cocaine, then given a choice between intravenous cocaine and oral saccharine, most chose saccharin.
- In the Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, daily consumption of diet drinks was associated with a 36% greater risk for metabolic syndrome and a 67% increased risk for Type 2 Diabetes. Aren’t these the diseases that artificial sweeteners may help prevent in the first place?
These studies speak volumes to me, but I am already a believer in the dangers of artificial sweeteners. If you’re still on the fence, do your own study. Write down your weight and any symptoms you currently experience. Give up all artificial sweeteners (saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose) completely for two full weeks, drinking water or fresh brewed, unsweetened tea instead. Document any changes or improvements you observe. I’m willing to bet the results will be… oh, so sweet!
- Swithers, S., Davidson, T. (2008). A Role for Sweet Taste: Calorie Predictive Relations in Energy Regulation by Rats. Behavioral Neuroscience, Vol. 122, No. 1.
- PLOS One. 2007 Aug 1;2(8):e698. Intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward. Lenoir M, Serre F, Cantin L, Ahmed SH.
- Diet Soda Intake and Risk of Incident Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Diabetes Care, April 2009, Vol. 32, No. 4, 688-694.