This article was originally published in my Holistic Outlook column in The Times Herald Record.
I hope I convinced you in my last column that sugar has no intrinsic value, and contributes to disease by increasing inflammation, free radicals, and insulin resistance. It’s cancer’s favorite food. That’s why glucose uptake is used to trace cancer in PET scans.
What about artificial sweeteners?
The bottom line is: they don’t work. Studies consistently show artificial sweeteners do not help people to reduce calories or lose weight. In fact, they can cause “paradoxic weight gain”, even when compared with equivalent consumption of real sugar.
One reason might be what’s called “calorie dysregulation”. Artificial sweeteners disrupt your body’s ability to monitor what you need nutritionally, beginning with your taste buds and the enzymes in your saliva. The sweet taste triggers metabolic processes specific to sugar intake. Your body expects sugar, prepares for sugar, but there is none, so your system compensates, craving the calories it was primed for and throwing the system off balance.
Also, because artificial sweeteners are many times sweeter than sugar, they modify our experience of sweetness: we need more and sweeter things to satisfy cravings. An apple no longer tastes as sweet when you are used to diet soda with chemicals hundreds of times sweeter.
Lack of efficacy isn’t the only reason to eliminate artificial sweeteners from your menu. While research is neither clear nor consistent, artificial sweeteners have been associated with some serious health problems. Our regulatory agencies label these “Generally Regarded As Safe” but studies backing that conclusion are short (a few months, rather than years) and small. Furthermore, research in the U.S. is funded by manufacturers who have a financial stake in the outcome. In contrast, an Italian study looked at safety issues and concluded “re-evaluation of use is urgent and cannot be delayed.” No one can definitively tell you they are toxic, but there are enough questions to raise concerns.
Honey, agave, maple syrup, rice syrup and other “natural sweeteners” are all still sugar to our bodies, and have the same effects: raising blood sugar, inflammation, feeding cancer cells, and increasing your risk of diabetes. Sad, but true.
In my next column, I will tell you about how to eliminate “stealth sugars” in your diet, and the two sweeteners I recommend.