Artificial sweeteners are a prominent figure in the modern day diet nowadays. They can be found in foods and beverages such as chewing gum, juices, fizzy drinks, bars and ‘healthy snacks’. They act as a replacement to sugar and are perceived to be healthier, lower calorie alternatives to foods higher in sugar. So, are they healthier for us? There are many different kinds of sweeteners so in today’s blog I will aim to uncover the truth on sweeteners and the effects they have on the body. I will also discuss natural sweeteners, what they are and whether they should be consumed rather than artificial sweeteners.
There are five main artificial sweeteners, Aspartame, Saccharin, Xylitol, Sucralose and Erythritol. There are numerous studies to suggest that these fake sweeteners cause more harm than good. Side effects include headaches, migraines, weight gain and more serious conditions like cardiovascular disease.
What many people don’t realise is that artificial sweeteners also can cause a dangerous addiction to overly sweet foods. They retrain the taste buds to need more and more, sweeter and sweeter foods. This leads to even greater incidences of obesity, type 2 diabetes, kidney damage and so much more. You’ll never feel quite satisfied when consuming artificially sweetened foods, because your body is being tricked into believing that it’s getting sugar. This will make you more likely to fill the gap with high calorie foods.
Furthermore, a study conducted by the Diabetes Journal - http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/32/4/688 - on the effects of artificial sweeteners found that daily consumption of drinks with artificial sweeteners creates a 35 percent greater risk of metabolic syndrome, atherosclerosis (a condition where plaques build in the arteries leading to heart attacks and strokes) and a 67 percent increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
The two most controversial sweeteners are ‘Aspartame’ and ‘Saccharin’. These are found in many artificially sweetened beverages and foods like sugar free fruit juices, fizzy drinks and sweets. These two sweeteners have been around since the 1970s and have been shown to cause numerous health issues when consumed regularly. For example, the National Institutes of Health–AARP study, found that frequently drinking artificially sweetened beverages may increase depression risk among older adults. In the study healthy individuals were split into two groups with half given a high dose of aspartame (the equivalent of about three litres of Diet Coke’s worth) and the other half a lower dose (a single litre of Diet Coke’s worth). Then the groups switched. After only eight days on the higher-aspartame dose, participants exhibited more depression and irritability, and performed worse on certain brain function tests.
Sucralose is another sweetener to avoid. It’s derived from sugar but it’s chlorinated in it’s process of creation. So, it contains Chlorine, which is toxic to the human body. Not only this, but it is 600 times sweeter than sugar! This can contribute massively to sugar addiction because you will constantly be craving sweet foods.
Finally, sorbitol and xylitol. These two sweeteners are less harmful than the above but they aren’t properly absorbed by the body. They can cause uncomfortable gastrointestinal side effects including bloating, cramping, gas and diarrhoea. There are less studies which examine the further long term effects of these two sweeteners as they are relatively new. But to me, the fact that the body doesn’t recognise them as a nutrient source, can't metabolise leading to digestive problems suggests we shouldn’t be consuming them.
Artificial Sweeteners are not good for our bodies and we shouldn’t be consuming them. Our bodies are not designed to consume these foreign, toxic chemicals and it’s little wonder they cause such negative health effects.
So what should you consume instead?
If you have a sweet tooth you don’t want to go back to eating high sugar foods but there are natural sweeteners available which are a lot more beneficial to us compared to artificial sweeteners and sugar.
Examples of natural sweeteners include maple syrup, coconut sugar, stevia, fruit purees and raw honey. You can also try to add more flavour and sweetness to foods by adding vanilla, cocoa, licorice, nutmeg and cinnamon. All of these have been found to be harmless and actually have many health benefits. Make the switch to a more natural, chemical, processed free diet to feel better and healthier!