The sour truth about artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are used by many people trying to lose weight. They’re often touted as ‘healthy’ by food and beverage companies – but guess again.

Credit: Bill Boch

Credit: Bill Boch

Recent research links these chemical sugar substitutes to weight gain, heart disease and diabetes.

So, how can something with zero calories lead to obesity and disease?

“It happens because artificial sweeteners are anywhere from a few hundred to 13,000 times as sweet as regular sugar,” said Dr. Mark Hyman of Cleveland Clinic. “It sends signals once it hits the tongue to the brain to make you hungry, to slow your metabolism, and to store calories.”

According to Hyman, artificial sweeteners may slow metabolism and affect the brain, which may cause feelings of hunger and result in eating more. He said doctors are now learning that artificial sweeteners may change bacteria in the gut which can lead to inflammation, insulin-resistance and pre-diabetes.

He recommends avoiding artificial sweeteners and sweetening food and drink with sugar instead.

“When you know what you’re adding to your food, it’s fine,” said Dr. Hyman. “It’s not the sugar that you add to your food or your coffee that’s the problem. It’s the sugar added by the food industry, it’s in massive amounts. One can of soda, a large 20 ounce can, has 15 teaspoons of sugar, you’d never put that in your coffee.”

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Dr. Hyman warns consumers to be wary of artificially sweetened drinks labeled as ‘low’ or ‘zero’ calories that claim to be healthy – because they’re not.

For more on the health detriments of artificial sweeteners, read this study on the matter conducted by the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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