Artificial Sweeteners

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(This post, and future ones like it, are part of a new series to help inform our readers on the positive and negative effects of our daily habits.)

Artificial sweeteners: what do they do to our body, our brain and our gut? According to an article in Eating Well Magazine by Alyssa Langer, R.D., L.D.N., Americans consume an average of 17 teaspoons of added sugar every day. Some of these sugars are pure cane sugar, but many are artificial sweeteners. That’s more than a third of a cup, and equals more than 17 pounds of sugar each year. This isn’t the sugar in whole fruits or natural dairy products. These figures represent the added sugars in baked goods, candy, condiments, processed foods and beverages. I am certain my sugar intake was much higher than 17 teaspoons when I was eating poorly. What? You too? You’ll get no judgement from me! I built my home on Aspartame Avenue!

Six pack of Tab soda

It began with Tab. My grandmother introduced me to the sugar-free, heavenly elixir when I was about 11 years old. “Dickie,” as we all called her, had found her holy grail. Dickie was always dieting. She always had a 6-pack of Tab in her fridge, and more on the stairwell leading to the basement. We would share a can together and chat, over our Tab and a chicken sandwich on Pepperidge Farm white bread.

Can of Diet Pepsi

Back in the day, I was NEVER one to drink my calories. I drank only Diet Pepsi, coffee, or maybe water. Having done so, I felt more entitled to whatever my cravings were, because I was saving those calories for food. When the caffeine began to bother me, I switched to caffeine-free diet sodas.

sugary food pile and a can of soda

As long as I had my precious little cans of zero calories, I could keep myself from getting fat. (And how did that plan work out for me? Dear God!)

What has a lifetime of artificial sugars done to my body?

Weight gain. Yep. The one thing that I thought would keep me from gaining weight did just the opposite. It kept me hooked on sugar! “On a biological level, researchers have found that sweeteners may interfere with our metabolisms and the way our bodies physiologically respond to sweetness. When we taste sweet foods, our bodies instinctively react by releasing hormones and activating our metabolisms to prepare for an incoming sugar load. These processes help keep blood glucose under control and regulate appetite. But artificial sweeteners may “trick” the body; when consumed, the body doesn’t actually receive any sugar or calories, so it may stop releasing hormones and revving the metabolism. This can be problematic because if caloric foods are consumed later on, the body may not be as well-prepared to metabolize the sugar load, which could potentially lead to higher blood glucose and weight gain.” (Alyssa Langer, R.D., L.D.N.)

plate of sugary food

What has a lifetime of artificial sugars done to my brain?

Cravings. Because many artificial sweeteners are actually much sweeter than sugar, frequent or heavy use may lead to a preference for supersweet foods.

In a study at Harvard Medical School, Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity and weight-loss specialist at Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital, warns of the long terms effects of sugar substitutes. “It’s possible that these products change the way we taste food,” Dr. Ludgwig reports. “Non-nutritive sweeteners are far more potent than table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. A miniscule amount produces a sweet taste comparable to that of sugar, without comparable calories. Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes,” explains Dr. Ludwig. “That means 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.”

What has a lifetime of artificial sugars done to my gut?

Many people experience gas and bloating, particularly with sugar alcohols like sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol, which also may have a laxative effect. Check the labels of your sugar-free chewing gum, candies, and packaged foods. If you want a giggle, click here for a K2.0 post about sugar alcohols! It’s funny … but it’s not. I disrupted the natural process of digestion by ingesting so many sugar alcohols. Gut health is extremely important to the overall health of the body.

Johns Hopkins gastroenterologist Gerard Mullin, M.D. reports that “digestive system problems such as heartburn, gas, bloating and constipation reflect what’s happening throughout your body. The main drivers of gut health change are shifts in stomach acid, gut immunity and gastrointestinal flora—the complex ecosystem of bacteria in your digestive system. When gut health is good, he says, you’re less likely to experience damaging inflammation and lapses in immunity, ” Mullin says.

So … what to do?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You are what you eat. Like it or not, we just can’t get away from that. If we eat artificial, highly processed, foods, our body will respond with disease. If we eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low saturated fats, healthy proteins and healthy fats, our bodies will respond by an increase in energy level and overall health.

Which will you choose?

Picture of chocolates on one scale, fruit on another scale.


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