Don’t eat sugar they say. Its bad for you.
More and more we are learning about the negative health effects of eating too much sugar, especially “added sugars”. Sugar is hiding just about everywhere in the grocery store. From bread and cracker to sauces and cereals, sugar dominates the ingredients list.
Ingesting refined sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin and increases your risk for a host of issues.
But people love their sweets. As light shines on the negative effects of sugar, industries caught wind of this and created artificial sweeteners to help us get our fix. They wanted to profit off of the demand for lower-calorie foods that still taste sweet.
The idea is that you can get the sweetness, without the calories; like when you have a “diet pop” versus a regular one. Theoretically, this was going to help people maintain a healthy body weight, and hopefully not increase anyone’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity. It didn’t exactly work out that way.
I’ll be honest, I fell for it. Earlier on, in my own weight loss journey, I knew I had to cut out sugar. But I loved it. So fake sugar it was. I believed I could get my sweet fix without worrying about my weight. I put it on everything. In my coffee, on my oatmeal, yogurt, everything. I admit it. I was a self-proclaimed artificial sweetener addict. There I said it. It wasn’t until my now husband pointed out that the whites of my eyes were yellow. Not exactly an endearing compliment I wanted to hear. So, I started looking into things. The yellowing of my eyes was a sign my liver was in distress. It forced me to look at what I was taking in. This was the first time I started to understand that calorie counts were not the only thing to consider. The quality of the foods has an impact. I gave it up one year as my New Years resolution and never looked back. The whites of my eyes came back, I lost a few pounds without even trying, and my cravings reduced significantly. Looking back, I cannot believe I consumed so much chemicals on a regular basis. But grateful I had my wake-up call.
Types of artificial sweeteners
Sugar substitutes fall into several categories, but what they all have in common is that they have a sweet taste and fewer calories than plain sugar.
“Artificial Sweeteners,” are synthetic chemicals where a tiny bit tastes very sweet.
They’re also known as “non-nutritive sweeteners,” and include things like:
- Saccharin (Sweet & Low),
- Acesulfame potassium,
- Aspartame (Equal & NutraSweet), and
- Sucralose (Splenda).
Origin of Artificial Sweeteners- Accidentally Sweet
Saccharin, named for the Latin word for sugar, was discovered accidentally in 1897 by a researcher looking for new uses for coal tar derivatives. He forgot to wash his hands before lunch and tasted something sweet on his fingers. Similar versions of this story occur in the accidental discoveries of aspartame. Sucralose was created many years later in 1976 when scientists found a way to molecularity bond sucrose molecules with chlorine. (Yes, chlorine!!) One researcher was asked to “test” the chlorinated compound but misheard the request and tasted it instead. That’s science…
Health effects of artificial sweeteners
Negative health effects from artificial sweeteners are cited everywhere, and while many studies show effects, others don’t. For every study that is out there to prove the dngers, there is another to disprove it. Cancer? Maybe. Heart disease? Possibly. Correlation to Alztimers? Neurological disorders, Diabetes? Uncertain. Also, much of the research has been on animals, which may or may not translate to people. It can be confusing. This is when I encourage logic. Chemicals in our food should be questioned.
I did want to point out something ironic with artificial sweeteners and weight.
One study found that people who drink diet sodas have double the risk of gaining weight than those who didn’t.
Another study has shown an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.
While these results don’t apply equally to everyone, they do somehow seem ironic, don’t they?
Even without concrete data to support links between artificial sweeteners and disease, I believe we should all question what effect these chemicals have on our bodies. Right in the name it says artificial. I personally do not encourage anyone to consume anything artificial and expect a healthful result.
How Do Artificial Sweeteners Affect Our Bodies?
That’s the million-dollar question.
There are many ideas that try to explain it, but the reality is we don’t know for sure. There are too many variables with lifestyle and biochemical individuality to get a definitive answer.
- Is it because people feel that because they’ve switched to diet soda they can eat cake?
- Perhaps it’s because the sweeteners change the taste preferences so that fruit starts to taste worse, and veggies taste terrible?
- Maybe artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for more (real) sweets?
- It can be that the sweet taste of these sweeteners signals to our body to release insulin to lower our blood sugar; but, because we didn’t ingest sugar, our blood sugar levels get too low, to the point where we get sugar cravings.
- Some even say (and at least one animal study suggests) that saccharin may inspire addictive tendencies toward it.
- Maybe there is even a more complex response that involves our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels.
I don’t claim to be a scientist and know all the answers. I do encourage a healthful lifestyle using whole foods. I also encourage you to question the manufactured foods products that are plastered with health claims. Use this post to provoke thought. Understand that added sugar is not good for you, but the solution is not to replace them all with artificial sweeteners.
I highly recommend reducing your sugar intake, so you naturally re-train your palate and start enjoying the taste of real food that isn’t overly sweet. Explore other natural sweeteners that will offer some nutritional and healthful benefits. Enjoy these in moderation. Treats in my opinion should be infrequent and inconvenient. Make decadent desserts using natural sweetness and enjoy them on occasion. Whether its real sugar, natural sweeteners or artificial sweeteners, having any on a regular basis will not support your health. Don’t have the pantry stocked with sweets. This way you’re reducing your total intake of added sugar, as well as not needing to replace it with artificial sweeteners.
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Your body will thank you!