All You Need to Know about Artificial Sweeteners

Posted on Monday, September 24th, 2018

All You Need to Know about Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are sugar replacements that are typically used to introduce a sweet taste to food and drinks without adding any calories. Since they add zero calories, they are typically considered the most effective technique for weight loss. Nevertheless, most artificial sweeteners have certain side effects that require careful evaluation before adopting them in your daily dietary plan.

Sweeter Tooth

Higher intake of artificial sweeteners has been found to give the person a sweeter tooth, as their degree of sweetness is generally higher than table sugar and high-fructose fruits. Even the artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA are several times sweeter than white sugar. This is reported in the table below:  
Artificial Sweetener Sweetness compared to Sugar
Saccharin 300 times sweeter than sugar
Acesulfame 200 times sweeter than sugar
Aspartame 180 times sweeter than sugar
Neotame 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar
Sucralose 600 times sweeter than sugar

 

The surprising sweetening level of some of these artificial sweeteners compared to regular sugar raises serious concerns on the impact they on the body’s sugar level. In fact, excessive sweetness stimulates the sugar receptors in the body to demand sweeter tasting foods, to the extent that naturally-sugary fruits become of a mild taste and vegetables feel completely unappealing.

This disturbance in the taste receptors would also encourage higher intake of sweets to satisfy sugar cravings since the human brain is likely to respond to excessive sweetness with a desire to eat more. Sugar has previously been proven to be an addictive substance. Whether sweeteners would have the same effect on the brain is currently unknown. With certain receptors activated with sweetener products, there is a possibility that similar effects may be produced.

This is then expected to reverse any weight loss resulted from the use of zero-calorie artificial sweeteners as well as making it harder to stop the intake of these sweeteners.

Self-Deceiving Effect

One of the drawbacks of using artificial sweeteners is that they give the feeling that you have been doing well on your diet and have not consumed any calories, which would encourage you to increase your food intake or enjoy more sweets or dessert. This self-deceiving effect would make the person offset the weight loss caused by the use of the artificial sweeteners which defies their original purpose.

Worse yet, while these artificial sweeteners are zero-calories, they do induce the secretion of insulin in the body as they stimulate the taste buds indicating sugar intake. Nevertheless, this produced insulin will not be utilized to break down sugar and generate energy because there was no intake of sugar in the first place. The insulin then is directed to the fat cells where it gets stored. As a result, the body is gaining fats while it is expected to lose weight due to zero-calorie sweeteners.

Artificial Sweeteners and Weight Gain

Based on our discussions so far, claims that artificial sweeteners are useful for weight loss need significant reconsideration. Whether they encourage eating more sweets or disturb the body’s reaction to sugar intake, the result is an increase in the overall demand for food thereby leading to weight gain. In fact, several studies have actually revealed that artificial sweeteners caused a 47% higher increase in BMI (Body Mass Index) for people who consumed artificially sweetened drinks compared to those who did not. More specific research resultsstated that Aspartame and Acesulfame both changed the structure of certain genes that are responsible for the breakdown and digestion of fats and lipids. This means that it causes an increase in the percentage of lipids in the bloodstream allowing their deposit into the body cells and tissues, thereby causing weight gain. This may even cause more risks as it increases the potential for cardiovascular diseases and hypertension.

Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?

The Foods and Drugs Authority (FDA) of the U.S. has listed five artificial sweeteners as safe, namely saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. Nevertheless, their definition of ‘safe’ is based on certain tests that did not cover the risk of developing cancers either risks of metabolic syndrome. Moreover, the studies were tested on the low intake of these artificial sweeteners, in spite of the fact that a diet soda consumer takes in around 24 ounces of it daily, which has a significant portion of these zero-calorie sweeteners. Hence, the effect of using artificial sweeteners in developing cancers needs to be carefully investigated, particularly bladder cancers.

Another health concern associated with the use of artificial sweeteners is the chances of developing insulin resistance due to an upsurge in the blood sugar levels without having actual sugars. As discussed earlier, the body responds to sweeteners by generating insulin that will not be utilized because there is not natural sugar to act upon, and hence will be stored as fats. Eventually, this unutilized insulin causes the body to resist the insulin it is producing due to the change in the gene activity. This can eventually lead to Type 2 diabetes. 

Conclusion

Although the concerns about the negative health impacts of artificial sweeteners appear to outweigh its anticipated weight loss benefits, a direct correlation between using artificially-sweetened drinks and getting diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension or obesity have not yet been established, which leaves us with educated concerns only. Nevertheless, it is important to retain the belief that with artificial products come more risks than benefits, and hence it would be better to regulate the intake of natural sugars rather than resorting to such replacements.

References

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/artificial-sweeteners-sugar-free-but-at-what-cost-201207165030

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/artificial-sweeteners/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5174153/

https://www.popsci.com/artificial-sweeteners-vs-sugar

https://edition.cnn.com/2016/01/18/health/where-do-we-stand-artificial-sweeteners/index.html