Artificial Sweeteners

The Truth About Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners have become hugely popular in today’s society as people look for quick fixes and ways to cut corners with their diet. These products boast claims as having zero calories, and that they are a safe alternative to sugar, but is it really that simple? Are these artificial sweeteners safe to consume without having any effect on the human body? There is new information emerging all of the time, and many studies are now showing that these sweeteners that were once deemed safe, may not be that harmless after all.
 

Conditioning The Brain

One of the concerns with the use of artificial sweeteners in food and drinks is that they condition a person to expect things to taste sweet. Take for instance an individual that switches from a sugary soda to one that is sweetened artificially. While they may be cutting out the empty calories and sugar, they are still reinforcing their preference for items that taste sweet. So what is wrong with having a preference for sweet things? If a person has been conditioned to seek out sweet food and drinks, the likelihood is that they won’t enjoy things that do not light up the pleasure center in the brain. Healthful food choices including vegetables, whole grains, and water are not sweet, and it is less likely that someone that consumes artificial sweeteners will seek these items out.
 

Link To Weight Gain

When a person decides to replace sugary food and drinks with items that are artificially sweetened, there may be an initial reduction in calorie intake. However, it is believed that in most cases this is very short lived; individuals simply make up for that caloric deficit by eating other processed foods throughout the day. In short, a person really isn’t fixing the problem by switching to artificial sweeteners, but is simply masking it and then compensating with other things.
Aspartame in particular contains both aspartate and phenylalanine. These chemicals can interfere with hunger hormones leptin and insulin, and influence fat storage and metabolism. Consuming artificial sweeteners can increase a person’s appetite and keep them hungry by preventing them from knowing when they have eaten enough.
 

Gut Health

The connection between artificial sweeteners and the bacteria in the human digestive tract is one aspect that may have larger implications than once believed. There are studies that show these types of sweeteners support the growth and health of a particular bacterial population that assists the body with the storage of fat, as opposed to the breakdown of food for energy. Furthermore, it is suggested that the body’s tissues have difficulty absorbing glucose from the blood, which can lead to glucose intolerance. This condition can contribute to a higher risk of heart and liver disease, as well as diabetes.
 

How To Proceed

When making decisions on what food choices are right for you, it is important to consider that there are no “free calories”. These artificial sweeteners may seem like a blessing, but every choice a person makes does have an impact, and everything you do does matter.
If you are used to eating foods that are sweet, it will initially be a challenge to remove sweetened products from your diet. The good news is, that if you stick with it, your tastes will actually change back and the drive to seek out overly sweet foods will lessen.
The most important thing is to get back to eating more food that grows from the ground or falls from a tree, and less food that is being designed by someone in a white lab coat.
Give it a try! Believe it or not, the artificially sweetened foods that you once found to be deliciously irresistible will soon taste unnatural and too sweet.
Remember: “there is no such thing as a biochemical free ride”
Learn more about our eating disorder philosophy HERE

David became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) in 2013 and founded Nutrition in Recovery, a group practice of RDNs specializing in the treatment of eating and substance use disorders. In 2017, David received the “Excellence in Practice” award at the national Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. The California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics awarded him the “Emerging Dietetic Leader Award” in 2020. He earned his PhD from UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health in the Community Health Sciences department (with a minor in Health Psychology) by investigating the links between adverse childhood experiences and various mental health outcomes among socially disadvantaged men. His treatment philosophy is based on a biopsychosocial model which incorporates an understanding of biological mechanisms, psychological underpinnings, and contextual factors that integrate the social determinants of health. His website Wise Mind Nutrition offers a fully online interactive treatment program that will be available in the Summer of 2022.

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