It seemed that our lucky stars had aligned when food scientists discovered you can have sweetness without the calories. A cup of sugar has over 700 calories and it is EVERYWHERE. So creating that coveted sweetness without the extra calories is a win in the fight against obesity. Right? Not so fast. While there is no doubt artificial sweeteners reduce caloric intake, the overall health effects may be far from desirable.
What are they?
Artificial sweeteners are made up of chemical substances that are up to 800X sweetener than ordinary table sugar. As a result you only need a tiny amount to obtain the same level of sweetness associated with sugar. These chemical compounds are mixed with an indigestible filler to make packets ideal for pouring into your latte or are added directly to products sold, such as diet soda. Brand names include Splenda, Nutrasweet, Sweet N’ Low, and Equal. The result? You get the sweetness you crave, but because you body doesn’t digest the filler, you absorb no calories from the product.
The Potential Issues
Critics of artificial sweeteners typically cite safety issues. When it comes down to it, artificial sweeteners are a chemical. Numerous studies have demonstrated a wide array of adverse affects ranging from bloating and gas to migraine headaches and even cancer. While it is important to note that these products are deemed safe by the FDA, certain public interest groups such as the CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) strongly warn against the use of artificial sweeteners because of inconclusive scientific evidence demonstrating long-term safety. Besides safety issues, there is new research showing that artificial sweeteners may actually fuel obesity, not reduce risk as once thought. Why is this? Well, you body still tastes something sweet and as a result, releases insulin to regulate the expected rise in blood sugar. The release of insulin also triggers the storage of foods you eat. So you may be eating less calories thanks to artificial sweeteners, but you body will store more of the calories you eat as fat because just the sweet taste causes a surge in insulin. Research also indicates that people may eat more when using artificial sweeteners. The more sugar you eat, the more you crave sugar. The same holds true for artificial sweeteners because you are introducing a sweet taste to your body. What is worse is that, mentally, people may feel they can indulge more readily because they’ve reduced calories by, say, choosing a diet soda. This results in a vicious cycle of “eat something sweet-crave more sweetness-mentally reward yourself for eating less calories”.
So What Do I Do?
Ideally, the country would change its sugar-dependent ways. I wish people would learn to savor the sweetness of a local strawberry in the summer or the natural sweetness of roasted vegetables. When real food becomes your benchmark of sweetness, heavily sugared items (artificial or otherwise) are far from appealing.
When push comes to shove, one Splenda in your coffee or one diet soda isn’t going to harm your well-being. These techniques can actually be quite useful in trying to reduce calories. But when that one soda multiples or you are eating numerous products with these sweeteners, you could run into adverse affects. For more information, and a personal account, check out Amanda Hernadez, RD’s take on artificial sweeteners.
The bottom line: treat all sweet items as treats. Artificial sweeteners are not a green-light to indulge in as much as you want.
Tell Us: What is your opinion of artificial sweeteners?
The Nutritionist Reviews is a blog written and maintained by Amanda Hernadez, RD. Elena is one of Around the Plate’s Nutrition Experts and a member of thePlate Community. As a Nutrition Expert, Elena makes eating healthy simple. Find other healthy eating champions, nutrition experts, and recipe gurus on our community blog network.