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The Price We Pay for Sweet: Health Effects of Artificial Sweeteners

sweetener

I stopped at the gas station the other day and decided to pop inside and grab myself a drinky-drink. I wanted something that was delicious (to help satisfy this sweet tooth I can’t seem to shake), so I reached for my favorite tasty soft drink…but WAIT! I just remembered that I’m trying to watch my figure, so I'll opt for the “diet” variety, because it has less sugar, and everyone knows that too much sugar = BAD!

So, say to myself, “Self, Great job picking a healthier alternative and making better choices! Thanks, Self! You’re welcome!”

Delicious, delicious sugar!

Choosing options with less sugar is a great thing to keep in mind, especially in a society that over-indulges in sweet treats on the regular, however when companies remove something from a product (i.e sugar), they must replace it with something else. Take fat-free foods for example. Foods that are fat-free have had the fat removed (mostly, anyway) from the recipe leaving it unstable and (more importantly) it tastes terrible! Because let’s be honest; fat tastes delicious! And people generally don’t buy foods that taste gross, so how do companies make it taste better so people will actually buy it? By adding sugar! The food is TECHNICALLY low in fat (as compared to the full-fat version), so they can claim it’s “fat-free,” but by loading it up with sugar defeats the purpose of making it a “healthier” food option. That being said, in the terms of soda, is diet soda REALLY any healthier than its full-sugar counterpart?

When the sugar is removed from soda, it’s replaced with an artificial sweetener so it can still taste good but without the calories, hence “diet.” One of the neat things about artificial sweeteners is that they are so painfully sweet that it takes less sweetener to reach the same amount of sweetness as regular ol’ sugar. So, if sodas require less artificial sweetener to get the same amount of sweetness, how can diet sodas possibly be bad for you?

So, are artificial sweeteners bad?

Artificial sweeteners are troublesome for many different reasons. Excessive consumption of artificial sweeteners [as in ≥ 2 artificially sweetened beverages (ASB) per DAY] can lead to:

  • Weight gain
  • Glucose intolerance
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Dementia
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Stroke
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Increased inflammation

What happens in the body when we consume artificial sweeteners?

Consuming an excess of ASB alters the gut microbiota which is linked to glucose (sugar) intolerance. When someone is glucose intolerant, their pancreas can no longer properly make insulin to control blood sugar levels. Since the glucose in the blood cannot be absorbed into the system to be used as energy (ATP), it’s turned into fat and stored. Add in some inflammation and over time it can lead to weight gain and hypertension. If glucose intolerance is left untreated over an even longer period of time, it is VERY LIKELY to develop into diabetes, dementia, or even stroke! In fact, a study from 2019 {*see below} suggests that people who consume artificial sweeteners every day triples their risks of suffering both ischemic strokes and Alzheimer’s. It’s no surprise that as the consumption of artificially sweetened soft drinks is increasing in the community, so is the prevalence of stroke and dementia.

Kick the habit!

So, if you’re trying to kick the soft drink habit but finding it difficult, try this! For every soda you drink, match it with a glass of plain water. You drink 12 oz of soda, wash it down with 12 oz of water. This will help to fill you up and trigger the fullness sensor in your brain so you feel satisfied and don’t feel the need to overindulge. It also helps to keep you hydrated. When your body is sufficiently hydrated, it suppresses the thirst center in your brain which will minimize the urge to reach for a drink. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

 

References:

*Mossavar-Rahmani, Y., Kamensky, V., Manson, J. E., Silver, B., Rapp, S. R., Haring, B., Beresford, S. A. A., Snetselaar, L., Wassertheil-Smoller, S. (2019, March). Artificially Sweetened Beverages and Stroke, Coronary Heart Disease, and All-Cause Mortality in the Women's Health Initiative. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30802187/

Pase, M. P., Himali, J. J., Beiser, A. S., Aparicio, H. J., Satizabal, C. L., Vasan, R. S., Seshadri, S., Jacques, P. F. (2017, May). Sugar- and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and the Risks of Incident Stroke and Dementia: A Prospective Cohort Study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5405737/

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