The Harmful Effects of Artificial Sweeteners
Updated: Apr 22, 2022
If you turn over a product at the grocery store and look through the ingredients you'll likely find an artificial sweetener listed. They are in everything these days.
Why is that?
Well, one reason is our culture tells us that calories are everything. If a food manufacturer can put a zero calorie sweetener in a product and keep the calorie count as low as possible you better believe they are going to use them.
I'll save my calorie rant for another day.
Today I want to focus on the harmful effects of these artificial sweeteners and why we should be avoiding them and ignoring the "zero calorie" marketing.
Types of Artificial Sweeteners
Since most artificial sweeteners are zero calorie you cannot rely on the Nutrition Facts label to tell you if there is sugar in a product. You must read the ingredients. Yes, that teeny, tiny print that they don't want you to read.
Let's first go over some common names for artificial sweeteners so you know what you are looking for on an ingredient label. There are many more than the pink packet or blue packet these days.
Acesulfame potassium / Ace K
Sweet N Low
I personally don't like the taste of artificial sweeteners, but food scientist are very good at their job and they've learned how to combine chemicals to make them taste good to you.
In fact, most packaged products contain more than one type of sugar for this very reason. Food manufacturers use multiple types of sugar for taste, to reduce the calories per serving, and even to hide them. The more types of sugar they use, the further down the ingredient list they fall since all ingredients are in order by weight.
So yes, not only am I asking you to read the teeny, tiny label, but I'm also asking you to read the entire thing. Ugh.
OR you can use my rule of thumb.
Fill your cart 90% of the way with foods that don't have labels and the remaining 10% with foods that have six ingredients or less. When I pick up a product and it has a long list of ingredients my eyes immediately glaze over and it goes back on the shelf.
Now let's talk about some of the harmful effects of consuming these artificial sweeteners.
Insulin resistance happens when your cells begin ignoring the knock of insulin at its door. Insulin is trying to move glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cell. If the cell has become resistant, your pancreas has to release even more insulin to get the glucose into the cells.
Insulin is a storage hormone. It's responsible for moving the sugar from your blood into your muscle and liver cells. Your body can tap into this glycogen storage and use it as energy when needed. Once the glycogen stores are full, any excess glucose is stored in your fat cells as triglycerides. It is not easy to tap into this storage for energy.
Insulin is known for causing weight gain in the abdomen. Excess weight around the middle increases your risk of insulin resistance and increases inflammation. Nearly every modern disease is caused by inflammation.
If your body is unable to keep up with the demands and your blood sugar stays elevated regularly this leads to prediabetes and eventually type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance also increases the risk for PCOS, heart attacks, stroke, Alzheimer's, and cancer.
We've been lead to believe we only need to focus on calories and artificial sweeteners are harmless. However, regardless if the artificial sweeteners have calories, your brain and body believe they are getting sugar. When your brain senses sugar it signals an insulin release. You may be causing your body to release insulin unnecessarily, causing weight gain and eventually insulin resistance.
We now know that blood sugar instability is responsible for 60% of our cognitive decline. If you're insulin resistant you need to make a change as quickly as possible to prevent further complications. Keeping your blood sugar balanced is critical for your health.
Artificial sweeteners are 10-1,000 times sweeter than table sugar. When you consume artificial sweeteners your taste buds become desensitized to naturally sweetened foods, like fruits for example.
When your taste buds are desensitized you begin to add more and more sugar to your foods and beverages to make them taste sweet again.
Have you ever sprinkled sugar onto your berries or cereal?
I used to on the regular. Pick up any box of cereal and you'll be shocked at the amount of sugars listed in the ingredients. But, before I was aware of the amount of sugar I was taking in, it didn't actually taste sweet to me.
I thought putting sugar on my strawberries was totally normal.
Once you begin to remove the artificial sweeteners you'll be surprised just how sweet things begin to taste again. When you reduce your overall sugar intake your taste buds will change again. Now, having a piece of fruit in its natural form, no sugar added, is my dessert.
Want to bust your sugar and carb cravings naturally?
When you're consuming artificial sweeteners your body is expecting calories. Remember your brain is being signaled that you are taking in sugar and sugar has calories. However, depending on what you ate or drank, you may not have provided any calories.
For example, if you drink a diet soda you are going to provide zero calories. When your body doesn't receive any calories, it starts asking for them. In fact, it's been shown that people consuming artificial sweeteners eat more. So much for that "diet" soda. It's actually causing you to overeat instead of helping you lose weight.
When you are consuming sugar, including artificial sweeteners, throughout the day your body is continuously on the blood sugar rollercoaster. If you decide to grab something from the vending machine to hush the craving, then it will be satisfied for an hour or so, but when your blood sugar drops again, it's going to ask for more.
Artificial sweeteners are tricky. Typically clients tell me they thought they were making a good choice, but then they would "mess up" by lunch or dinner time because they were so hungry. Or they were crashing every afternoon and had to have another diet soda or sugary coffee to function.
It's not your lack of will power...it's the sugar and artificial sweeteners that are taking you off track. They are perpetuating the craving cycle.
Artificial sweeteners kill off your healthy gut bacteria. Why do we care about that? There are several reasons.
80% of your immune system is in your gut.
A lack of healthy gut bacteria leads to elevated blood sugar and insulin resistance.
Gut dysbiosis is linked to a higher incidence of obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular events.
Your healthy gut bacteria is also responsible for your ability to digest and absorb the nutrients that you are taking in at each meal. If your gut is unhealthy, you may not be able to absorb the vitamins and minerals you're taking in.
You also need a healthy gut to eliminate toxins from your body. If you're not having a bowel movement every day, then you're likely reabsorbing toxins into your body.
Stay away from artificial sweeteners. I suggest switching to natural sweeteners like, honey, dates, fruit, fruit juice or maple syrup to sweeten your foods and beverages as a first step. And then once you've successfully made the switch you can begin to lower your overall sugar intake.
Eating balanced meals, limiting your sugar, and 30 minutes of exercise per day is the best way to balance your blood sugar.
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