Artificial Sweeteners

I often get questions about artificial sweeteners.  People want to know if they are okay.  Many use them regularly with no negative consequences, while others experience headaches and various other unpleasant effects.  Listen to your body.  If you don’t feel good consuming them, then stop.  Know your values in life and let your food and drink choices follow suit.  My thoughts on this topic come down to this:  it’s a personal choice.

Artificial sweeteners are commonly used by people who are trying to lose weight or want to prevent weight gain.  They are also used by people with blood sugar issues.  With no calories or carbohydrates and no effect on blood sugar levels, sugar substitutes sound very appealing.  I drank diet soda and consumed loads of artificially sweetened foods years ago.  I wasn’t overweight but I also didn’t want to become overweight.  The thing is, while they may contain no calories, the fact remains that we need calories to live.  Those calories are going to have to come from somewhere else.  If you drink a diet soda in place of a sugary soda, yes, that is saving you those empty calories, but if you make up those calories with a side of french fries are you really doing yourself any good?

According to the FDA they are safe.  If you check with the CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) some are on the caution list and some are on the avoid list.  Check out what they have to say here to learn more.  It’s very interesting.  They even put stevia in the caution category.

I’ve been reading a fascinating book called the Slow Down Diet and I became very curious when I came across the author’s ideas about why artificial sweeteners should be avoided.   This author states that the body recognizes their sweetness which causes the pancreas to release insulin.  But because there has been no sugar ingested for the insulin to carry into cells for energy, insulin levels remain high in the body.  What does this mean?  Insulin is a hormone that promotes fat storage.  You want it to do it’s job of shuttling sugar into cells, not accumulate in excessive amounts making you fatter.  Yikes.

I found this theory intriguing and a great explanation about why everyone should avoid diet soda. However, as much as I’d like to ingrain this new “fact” into my brain and explain to my clients what I just learned, I knew that I would need to look into the actual research for myself.  If there is one thing I have learned in life– nutrition-related and otherwise– don’t ever believe what you hear or read without looking into the subject yourself.  Every book, magazine article, commercial and yes– even what you hear on a Dr. Oz episode, should be questioned by you before you automatically buy into it.

Unfortunately, as much as I wish I could, I can’t find the scientific evidence to support these claims on artificial sweeteners causing the release of insulin.  Other than  this study which tested Acesulfame K on rats and found that it did increase insulin secretion, the rest of the info I found leads me to believe that the other artificial sweeteners do not do this.   This study found that while insulin levels tended to be higher after drinking diet soda, results were not statistically significant.  This study indicates that sucralose ingestion did not stimulate an insulin response while sucrose (sugar) did.  Research pertaining to the use of artificial sweeteners and weight management is mixed and inconclusive.  The Mayo Clinic states that some research has suggested that consuming artificial sweeteners has been associated with increased weight.

I’m not going to get into the different types and what they are made from–  we all know that they are man-made and not naturally occurring.  Even those stevia packets that are marketed as natural are highly refined.  You know they are doing something to transform a green leaf into a white powder.  You need to decide how “clean” you want your diet to be.  I’m a believer in consuming foods in their natural, most wholesome state while limiting highly processed foods and products that include artificial ingredients.  But that’s just me and my personal philosophy about simplicity and not messing with mother nature.  Consider the havoc on health that has ensued from humans refining wheat and sugar.  Not to mention somebody’s bright idea to partially-hydrogenate oils.  And what kind of geniuses think that putting artificial dyes into food to make it pretty is a clever idea? Whenever we humans try to intervene and alter food too much it always seems to backfire.  If you are trying to avoid these unnatural ingredients in your food, I would like to point out that Whole Foods Market does not sell any products with artificial sweeteners (however, they do sell stevia and sugar alcohols).

In my personal experience, I have noted that the people who tend to consume sugar-free products are the ones who are overweight and have difficulty losing weight.  Just a personal observation.  It could be that although high-calorie drinks have been replaced with diet drinks, they are consuming more calories elsewhere in their diet.  Or, it could be something totally different, something on more of a metabolic or biochemical level that we don’t understand with science yet.

That’s all I’ve got on this one for now.  I’m taking a break from trying to sort through the studies on this topic.  It’s overwhelming and you read something but then you read something else and then you begin to go insane.  Who really knows for sure what the long-term consequences are?  To me, it just makes sense to avoid artificial sweeteners or at least to not make them a major part of your diet.  Diet soda and diet products don’t actually nourish you, which is what food is meant to do.  Eat real food, let it nourish you, relax, be kind to yourself and others and be healthy.

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