When clients at The Wellness Clinic have their initial health and fitness assessment, the subject of artificial sweeteners inevitably comes up. I understand the question. After all, it should “make sense” that these zero calorie additives would help make us slim and trim. Almost everyone is surprised by my response:
First choice – drink the coffee black or the tea plain.
Second choice – I’d rather see a half teaspoon of sugar than use of any artificial sweetener.
How can it be that “diet” foods and beverages with zero calories, or at least a lot less calories, not be beneficial for weight loss or general health?
Part of our problem is that we are still looking only at calories and not at food quality. It is absolutely NOT just about calories. Recent research – including an Israeli study from September 2021 – shows serious negative effects of artificial sweeteners.
Here’s a quick look at the most popular artificial sweeteners:
- Aspartame (NutraSweet) is 200 times sweeter than sugar.
- Saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low) is 200 times sweeter than sugar.
- Sucralose (Splenda) is 600 times sweeter than sugar.
- Steviol (Stevia) is 300 times the sweetness of sugar.
Although all of these sweeteners have been approved for use and have been determined as safe by government authorities, their continued use has been shown to be problematic.
Known side effects
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, citing a study done by the National Cancer Institute, still maintains that saccharin in heavy amounts causes cancer of the bladder.
There is documentation showing that some artificial sweeteners can cause bloating and stomach discomfort, rashes/flushing, panic-like agitation, dizziness and numbness, diarrhea, swelling, muscle aches, headaches (migraines), intestinal cramping, bladder issues, and stomach pain.
Research on the topic
In September 2021, a study lead by Israeli researchers was published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. The researchers found that use of saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose interrupt communication in the microbiome. When there is poor communication among the gut bacteria chances of weight gain and type 2 diabetes increase.
In his article in 2019, Dr. Michael Greger wrote also addressed the topic of artificial sweeteners. Dr. Greger wrote about the fact that research shows both Splenda and Stevia can cause weight gain, NOT weight loss. Why? Because these sweeteners effect the microbiome.
A study conducted at Harvard Medical School using the Framingham Heart Study shows that consuming diet drinks may actually increase the risk of heart disease. In this study, participants who drank more than one diet or regular soda per day experienced a 25% increased risk of impaired fasting glucose and high triglyceride levels. They had a 31% greater chance of becoming obese, a 32% higher chance of low HDL levels (good cholesterol), and a 44% increased risk of metabolic syndrome.
A February 2011 study suggests that today’s popular drinks may increase the risk for stroke, myocardial infarction (heart attack), and vascular death. Hannah Gardener, ScD, an epidemiologist from the University Of Miami Miller School Of Medicine in Florida reported that people who had diet soda every day experienced a 61% higher risk of vascular events than those who reported drinking no soda. More recent studies show that frequent consumers of these sugar substitutes may also be at increased risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Yes, – the very products that have been touted for more than 50 years to reduce weight are doing the opposite. In fact, they are harming our health in many ways!
Diet products usually tend to leave you wanting more. If you want more, you will take more, because after all, it’s meant for people who are dieting! Just because a certain food is marketed as a “diet” product doesn’t mean it will help you lose weight. If anything, the complete opposite might be true.
The bottom line: consuming wholesome, healthy foods and drinks (water) as opposed to those containing artificial sweeteners will more likely “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”