“Almost every artificial sweetener has been a by-product of chemical experiments where the person doing the experiments accidentally tasted the chemical they were working with and noticed it was sweet.” – Dr. Scott Olson, ND, author of Sugarettes: Sugar Addiction and Your Health*
When you reach for that packet of artificial sweetener, do you know what you are getting?
You may have read the news that sugar and certain foods that act like sugar in your body can be bad for your health – and that may have convinced you that you should remove sugars from your diet. That is a good idea, but if you think that artificial sweeteners might be a good way to deal with that nagging sweet tooth, you might want to think again.
People reach for artificial sweeteners for two reasons: either they want to lose weight or they think that they will suppress their sugar addiction, or both.
So it is surprising that artificial sweeteners do neither.
They do not help you lose weight, and they often make your cravings worse. Artificial sweeteners also deal an additional health-blow by introducing chemicals that either shouldn’t be in your body, or that you body has a hard time dealing with.
The health problems associated with saccharine, aspartame, sucralose and other artificial sweeteners are many, and you should avoid them whenever possible. Here’s why:
Breaking Your Addiction
The first thing to know about artificial sweeteners is that they do nothing to break your addiction to sweet-tasting foods.
Sugar addicts are a unique group of addicts, in that they want to stop their addiction, but only if they have a good substitute. This is a little like recommending that an alcoholic drink non-alcoholic beer in order to break their habit. Most people see how silly that might be, but then still want a good sugar substitute.
What you need to know is this: Continually eating sweet foods will keep the craving for sugary foods alive. This means that any tempting sugar foods you run into (at the office, a birthday party…) are all fair game; and out the window goes the reason why you started using artificial sweeteners in the first place.
It has been shown that the use of artificial sweeteners can actually cause you to consume more calories than if you weren’t eating them in the first place.(1)
The reason artificial sweeteners may be causing you to overeat is not clear, but it may be enough to understand that your body does not like to be tricked. Artificial sweeteners trick your body into believing that you are going to be eating foods, but you are not.
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The most likely cause of overeating with artificial sweeteners is the body’s insulin response. Your body’s response to a sweet taste in your mouth is to release insulin. When insulin is released, it pushes blood sugar lower. This lowered blood sugar may be the root of the reason why you are more likely to eat more: lower blood sugar means you feel hungry.
Almost every artificial sweetener has been a by-product of chemical experiments where the person doing the experiments accidentally tasted the chemical they were working with and noticed it was sweet. These sweeteners are the byproduct of chemical experiments and are not a food. These sweeteners are new chemicals and our bodies are confused about what to do with them.
We normally talk about side effects of drugs, but artificial sweeteners also have side effects that range from headaches, to diarrhea, to neurological problems and a host of other symptoms.(2) Aspartame alone was once the most complained about food additive on the planet.(3)
Worse than side effects is the possibility that many of these artificial sweeteners have been linked to diseases. Saccharine may cause bladder cancer, aspartame is broken down in the body to methanol (a known toxin), and other artificial sweeteners are no better – and are under investigation for a variety of disease connections.
Reach for Something Healthy
Your best bet if you are looking to avoid sugar is to simply avoid sugar, but if you are looking for a sweetener that will work for you without the side effects, your best choices are Stevia and Xylitol.
• Xylitol is a natural sugar that doesn’t raise blood sugar as high as many sugars, and actually appears to help reduce cavities.
• Stevia is an herb that tastes sweet, but has no calories. There are research studies that show that Stevia can actually help with blood sugar control.
You are on the right track when you are thinking about removing sugars from your life; just don’t make the mistake of choosing something artificial that can be much worse for you.
1. Lavin JH, French SJ, Read NW: “The effect of sucrose- and aspartame-sweetened drinks on energy intake, hunger and food choice of female, moderately restrained eaters,” International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders, Jan 1997;21(1):37-42.
2. Patel RM, Sarma R, Grimsley E: “Popular sweetener sucralose as a migraine trigger,” Headache, Sep 2006;46(8):1303-4.
3. Food Chemical News, June 12, 1995, Page 27.
* Scott Olson, ND, is a naturopathic doctor specializing in nutritional medicine and diet. Dr. Olson's research-based new book – Sugarettes: Sugar Addiction and Your Health – is now available on Amazon.com. To read more of his articles about sugar’s association with illness – as well as the intriguing first chapter of Sugarettes, visit his website (http://olsonnd.com)
Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is generic and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any illness, condition, or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.