Artificial sweeteners and weight loss go hand in hand for millions of dieters. A calorie-free sugar substitute can enhance the taste experience of a low calorie diet to help make staying on track more realistic.
Today, artificial sweeteners are found in hundreds of food products marketed as “diet” or “sugar-free”. Nearly every sugary food product from sodas, baked goods, ice cream, chewing gum and fruit juice have a “sugar free” or “no sugar added” equivalent which use artificial sweeteners to supplement its taste.
A no-calorie way to enjoy all of your favorite sweet foods? Artificial sweeteners almost seem too good to be true! That’s because they are. It now seems that the notion of using artificial sweeteners to cut calories could be one of the biggest fallacies in dieting.
Different Types of Artificial Sweeteners
The three most common types of artificial sweeteners found on the market today are:
- Aspartame (Nutrasweet and Equal)
- Saccharin (Sweet-N-Low)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
Each of these three sweeteners have links to significant health risks.
Health Risks of Aspartame
According to SweetPoison.com, aspartame has been linked to 92 different averse side effects. Among these include blindness, epileptic seizures, depression, high blood pressure, birth defects, brain damage and even death.
Early studies on the effects of aspartame on monkeys and mice showed the chemical produced brain tumors, seizures and death.
Since vicious political and legal battles in the 1970s through which aspartame gained FDA approval, the chemical has enjoyed free reign in the marketplace.
Health Risks of Saccharin
Coca-Cola’s diet soft-drink ‘Tab’ was once very popular in the 1960s and 1970s. However, sales of the drink have plummeted substantially since the manufacturer was required to put warning labels on the cans informing consumers that the artificial sweetener used in the drink, saccharin, had been linked to causing bladder cancer in lab rats.
The warning label read: Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.
Coca-Cola was able to repeal this warning label on Tab in 2000 when no clear evidence was made that saccharin causes cancer in humans.
However, a 2006 study in India did link the consumption of saccharin to the development of bladder cancer in humans.
Health Risks of Sucralose
Sucralose came on the market under its brand name Splenda following FDA approval in 1999. Splenda is manufactured using chlorine. Studies have shown that Splenda has caused stomach ulcers in some people which are thought to result from the build-up of trace amounts of chlorine absorbed by the body from sucralose consumption.
Regarding Splenda, Oxford Journal has stated, “For new generation sweeteners, it is too early to establish any epidemiological evidence about possible carcinogenic risks.” In other words, sucralose is too new of a product on the market for anyone to be terribly certain what health risks it may pose, if any.
Artificial Sweeteners and Weight Loss
In addition to the health concerns of artificial sweeteners, dieters should also be aware of the averse effects these substances have to weight loss goals. Unfortunately, the fact that they contain no calories does not ensure that they do not promote weight gain.
A study by Purdue University published in 2008 demonstrated a link between saccharin consumption and weight-gain. Researchers tested the weight-gain effects of rats fed yogurt sweetened with sugar and rats fed yogurt sweetened with saccharin. Surprisingly, the rats who ate the yogurt with the artificial sweetener ultimately gained more weight due to later consuming more calories. Researchers suspected the reason for this is because sweet foods signal to the body that they are about to eat a lot of calories. The body may get confused when that sweetness signal isn’t followed up with calories which may lead to eating more or expending less energy.
Another study in 2008 showed that saccharin may stimulate the release of insulin into the blood stream which can lead to weight gain by increasing glucose levels in cells.
An additional possibility for how artificial sweeteners may lead to weight gain is that they are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. By exposing taste buds to these ultra-sweet substances, they begin to expect sweeter foods in the future to satisfy their new flavor preference. The result of consuming artificial sweeteners could be that it causes the body to crave sugar more.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, artificial sweeteners are not as great as they are made to sound. Many of them may pose potential serious health risks. Additionally, even if they are completely safe for consumption, they may actually work against one’s weight loss objectives by causing them to crave more sugary foods. In the end, you may wind up eating more calories than you subtracted by choosing the food sweetened artificially.
Keep an eye on the bigger picture by following a diet rich in lean proteins, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Neither sugar nor artificial sweeteners are a wise choice for those serious about reaching their body weight goals.