Today artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes are found in many foods and beverages and they’re sold as “sugar-free” or “diet” foods including soft drinks, chewing gum, jellies, baked goods, candy, fruit juice, and ice cream and yogurt and most people have replaced natural sugars with these artificial sweeteners in a bid to lose weight or live healthy. The question however is, do these artificial sweeteners actually help you lose weight or gain weight?
Studies have shown that they actually cause weight gain.
The FDA has approved five artificial sweeteners: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. It has also approved one natural low-calorie sweetener, stevia. Brian Hoffmann, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Marquette University, and a lead author of the study of artificial sweeteners said, “Artificial sweeteners are not risk-free.”
He said that these studies have shown the link between artificial sweeteners and diseases like diabetes and obesity. He also said that genetically, these sweeteners alter genes that are responsible for the breakdown of fat in the body which leads to an accumulation of fat instead. What was perhaps most surprising, according to Hoffmann, was that these metabolic changes did not occur in the presence of natural sugars such as glucose and fructose.
Apart from weight gain, some sicknesses have been linked to foods that contain these sweeteners. A study conducted in 2008 found that drinking more than two servings of diet soda (which contains large amounts of these artificial sweeteners) a day doubled the risk for kidney degeneration in women especially. A 2012 study suggested a possible bridge between diet sodas and an increased risk for diseases and complications regarding the heart. If you use a ton of sweetener — more than 1,680 milligrams a day, and that’s a lot — you could have a somewhat higher risk of bladder cancer. And several studies have discovered that daily consumption of diet soda may be linked to a metabolic syndrome — a sort of prediabetes — and Type 2 diabetes, perhaps because it alters people’s gut bacteria.
A separate review of a larger sample of observational studies showed that people who used artificial sweeteners over time gained weight and had a larger waist circumference, as well as a higher incidence of hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular events.
“Based on all of the research done so far, there is no clear evidence for a benefit, but there is evidence of potential harm from the long term consumption of artificial sweeteners,” said Meghan Azad, Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics & Child Health and Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba.
“This should inspire consumers to think about whether they want to be consuming artificial sweeteners, especially on a regular basis, because we do not know if they are a truly harmless alternative to sugar.
“More importantly,” she added, “our results send a strong message to researchers and research funding bodies that more studies are needed to understand the long term health impact of artificial sweeteners.”
So how can something as “good” as sugar be bad for you?
Actually, according to new dietary guidelines published by the FDA, you can still eat sugar and still live a very healthy life contrary to popular belief. The FDA says all five approved sweeteners are safe as long as they are used in moderation.
Here’s a summary of the guidelines:
1.Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
2.Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
3.Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
4.Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
5.Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.
Here are some healthy foods that you can use to replace sugar and sweeteners:
- A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and others
- Fruits, especially whole fruits
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
- A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
For me, I think I’ll just have a slice of baked banana cake that I just made and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.
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