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Are artificial sweeteners healthier than real sugar?

Posted Jul 13 2009 10:03pm

Artificial Sweeteners - Splenda & EqualImage by Bukowsky18 via Flickr

A few weeks ago, I posted a research study summary that showed an increase incidence of diabetes in people that used artificial sweeteners.

I thought this study was quite interesting because I've often wondered if artificial sweeteners really were the best substitute for sugar.

As I mentioned, in the lab, when we were studying low-carb dieters, whenever we'd allow someone to have an artificially sweetened food, it would knock them out of ketosis. If you don't know what ketosis is, it's the state your body will enter in order to use fat as a major fuel source when you're not consuming a lot of carbohydrates.

So, in the case of artificial sweeteners, even though they're considered a "zero-calorie" food item, the body seems to actually be responding to it just like it was sugar.

In fact, that's what the investigators stated:

Artificial sweeteners activate sweet taste receptors in enteroendocrine cells, leading to the release of incretin, which is known to contribute to glucose absorption. Recent epidemiologic studies in Circulation (2008;117:754-761) and Obesity (2008;16:1894-1900) showed an association between diet soda consumption and the development of obesity and metabolic syndrome.

Also, looking into pubmed, you will find plenty of other studies that say the same thing.

For example, this study by Nakagawa Y et al, PLoS One. 2009;4(4), Sweet taste receptor expressed in pancreatic beta-cells activates the calcium and cyclic AMP signaling systems and stimulates insulin secretion, states:

...artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, succharin, and acesulfame-K increased insulin secretion and augmented secretion induced by glucose. ...

Then, this study by Swithers SE et al, A role for sweet taste: calorie predictive relations in energy regulation by rats, states:

We found that reducing the correlation between sweet taste and the caloric content of foods using artificial sweeteners in rats resulted in increased caloric intake, increased body weight, and increased adiposity, as well as diminished caloric compensation and blunted thermic responses to sweet-tasting diets. These results suggest that consumption of products containing artificial sweeteners may lead to increased body weight and obesity by interfering with fundamental homeostatic, physiological processes.

So, what's the answer? What should we use instead of sugar?

Well, in my personal opinion, we've become a nation addicted to sugar and most of us need to go to rehab. I know that sounds a little harsh, but I think it's true.

We've lost our appreciation for Mother Nature's sweetness from fruit and other natural foods and instead need to go to sickenly high levels of sweetness with excess sugar/artificial sweeteners to get any satisfaction.

Sure, a little sugar can be ok, but why do we need to drink/eat everything with a mega-dose of sweeteness?

How many times have I heard that "I just can't go without my Crystal Light, or Chocolate Cake, or Ice Cream or Sweet Treat, etc, each day?" Way too often.

Sugar is almost like cigarettes or another addictive substance. It may not seem easy to quit it at first, but it is possible.

I have one female client for example that only used to use artificially sweetened whey protein products. She then switched to unsweetened hemp protein, rice protein and egg white protein for a month. When she went back to the original whey product, she was disgusted at how sweet it was!

On the topic of whey protein: I now buy unsweetened whey protein from I don't miss the sweeteness at all and the natural vanilla extract added to it makes it very enjoyable in smoothies, in oatmeal, etc. You should try it too.

So, the take home message is that artificial sweeteners seem to be no better, and in fact might be worse that regular sugar (now, I'm not talking about HFCS here, just regular sugar).

Try to reduce your taste preference for sugar by reducing all artificial sweeteners in your diet. If you need the sugar, just eat something with natural sugars, or with real sugar instead and be accountable to those calories instead of thinking your doing your body a favor.

Once you start to eat less sugar, you'll start to crave it less and find many foods sweeter than they need be.

Please let me know your thoughts.

In health, Cassandra

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