The Skinny on Artificial Sweeteners

15 Feb 2012 by Vanessa, 1 Comment »

So, I’m doing pretty well on reducing my intake of artificial sweeteners (splenda, equal, sweet and low, etc.). No splenda in my coffee. I’m only using stevia to sweeten my beverages (my favorite brand is Sweet Leaf). I also think I’ve gotten rid of any foods laced with the fake stuff. I’ve also been drinking a stevia sweetened beverage called Zevia.It’s calorie and sugar free without any artificial sweeteners added. It’s helped A LOT when I’m craving something fizzy at the end of the day.

Now, you may be wondering why I’m trying to avoid artificial sweeteners in the first place. I mean, they make things taste good and they’re calorie free! What’s not to like? Well, I used to think the same thing. I remember the first time I added a pack of sweet and low to coffee. I was probably around 14 and had just begun my first “diet”, which led to a full fledged eating disorder. I remember thinking how awesome it was that this stuff made things taste so much better and no calories! 

Throughout the years I tried all the artificial sweeteners. I had a long love affair with Equal (aka aspartame) and Splenda (aka sucrolose). In fact, it was an addiction. I’d open multiple packets and dump them into my mouth. Just straight up eat them like it was candy or something. And not just a few. I’d go through whole boxes of the stuff in a few days. I absolutely cringe now thinking about what kind of damage I might have done to myself. I’ve gradually reduced my intake over the years and no longer keep any of it in the house. But, until recently I would still use products with splenda and equal and would add the sweeteners to my coffee or tea if I was out in restaurants.

So what made me want to completely rid my diet of the sweet stuff? Over the years, I’ve heard multiple reports that these seemingly wonderful little packets of calorie free goodness where REALLY bad for you and could possibly end up making you fatter! WHAT?! Fatter? Agh! NOOOO….. It’s sad that the possibility that my artificial sweetener use might be keeping from being as lean as I’d like to be  is what really made me reevaluate my intake but the truth hurts and I’m trying to be completely honestly here. You’d think that the threat of a brain tumor would be a little more compelling! Well, at least it’s gotten me to really make a true effort to bounce them for good. Here’s a summary of Dr. Yang’s (2010) review on  the epidemiological and experimental evidence concerning  artificial sweeteners and their effects on weight. Yang (2010) also attempts to explain why sweetners may cause increased weight based on their effects on neurobiology and the food reward system in humans.

The San Antonio Heart Study, completed in the 1980’s, found that people who used artificially sweeteners gained statistically more weight over 7-8 years than those who did not use artificial sweeteners (Yang, Q., 2010).

The American Cancer Society also studied a group of 78,694 women in the early 80’s that found over the course of the study (one year) 2.7-7.1% of artificial sweetener users gained weight compared to non-users (Yang, Q., 2010).

The Nurse’s Health Study found an association between saccharin use and weight gain over 8 years among 31,940 women (Yang, Q., 2010).

Several studies have linked increased BMI among children diet soda drinkers (Yang, Q., 2010).

Interestingly, in one study, aspartame use caused an increase in overall calorie intake perhaps due the participants over estimation of caloric reduction when using the artificial sweetener (Yang, Q., 2010).

Aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and saccharin have all been associated with increased hunger and  either a neutral effect on calorie consumption post ingestion or an increase in calorie consumption. Conversely, sucrose consumption before a meal resulted in less calories consumed during the following meal suggesting that consuming a natural sweetener and the calories associated helps to trigger a response that mitigates calorie consumption where as the artificial sweetener caused no such mitigation (Yang, Q., 2010).

There are two branches of the food reward system: sensory and postingestive. The postingestive branch involves activiation of the mesolimbic dopamine system which is important in the pleasurable sensations and the feeling of satisfaction associated with food intake. When one consumes something sweet without also ingesting calories (i.e. ingesting an artificial sweetener) the sensory branch is activated but not the postingestive. This  failure to complete the food reward system is thought to increase the appetite and food seeking behaviors. (Yang, Q., 2010).

Also, the constant ingestion of sweet foods or beverages (artificial or real) may increase cravings and dependance on sugar which may cause increaed food intake (Yang, Q., 2010).

So, it seems that artificial sweeteners may not  help us lose weight at all and may make us fatter in the long run. It also seems that using my beloved stevia may also cause me some issues in the end. However, I can only give up one vice at a time and for now I’ll stick with using the natural, non-caloric sweetener as opposed to the chemical/lab created stuff. Speaking of chemicals, I’ll cover the other potential physical illnesses and problems associate d with artificial sweetener use in my next blog post.

Yang, Q., “Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings” , 2010.



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One Comment

  1. […] marvel at an acid food orgy. Cereals, grains, hard cheeses, excess caffeine, white flour, sugar, ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS, meat (especially really fatty meats,) legumes, and pretty much everything processed are where […]

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