Ever since our palates were introduced to artificial sweeteners, they have been surrounded by controversy. Recently the role of sweeteners in blood glucose regulation as well as weight loss has been under scrutiny.
Carefully conducted studies are showing that people who consume artificial sweeteners in excess have the same health issues, specifically obesity and trouble controlling blood sugar levels (for people with diabetes) as do those who consume regular sugar.
Artificial sweeteners seem to temporarily satisfy a craving for sweet taste and can be momentarily rewarding. However consuming artificial sweeteners in large amounts may be like ‘crying wolf’ to a body that is listening attentively and this is why.
When artificial sweeteners are being processed the body is tricked into thinking that it is getting real food and real calories. So it responds by setting into motion the process for using this “sugar”. Specifically, insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, is released and sets out on its mission to process this “sugar” working hard to send it to its destination, to muscles, liver, fat cells.
When it is being forced to process large quantities of artificial sweeteners everyday, the body loses its responsiveness or sensitivity to natural sugar or real food and much like a deer in headlights, it does nothing to process the real sugar and real food when it needs to.
So why is this issue with negative health outcomes? Carbohydrate (a fancy name for natural sugar) comes from foods like grains, fruits, milk; carbs are converted to blood sugar and ultimately to energy. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, is released in response and helps in this process. This hormone is rendered “lazy” or insensitive after responding to repeated ‘prank’ calls by artificial sugar. When the body loses the ability to process natural sugar and real food, the sugar has no final destination and traffic jams in the blood. Our body does not like to waste calories, so all this excess circulating sugar is ultimately converted to and stored as fat, translating into weight gain.
Artificial sweeteners also increase appetite and the craving for carbohydrate; after being subjected to fake sugar, the body demands real or natural sugar, this results in over- indulgence of carb rich foods like desserts, pasta, rice and bread.
So what’s the bottom line? One word really, moderation. The most conservative advice would be to limit artificial sweeteners to one pack per day. Be very cautious about consuming candies, soft drinks and other foods with artificial sweeteners as well. It adds up quickly when one drinks several cups of coffee or tea per day with 1 pack of fake sugar in each cup, while munching on sugar free cookies or candy, not to mention the artificial sweetener that may have been used in cooking.
There are five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners: acesulfame potassium (Sunette, Sweet One), aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), neotame, saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet'N Low), and sucralose (Splenda). The youngest one on the block is Stevia (FDA has not approved the whole leaf or crude stevia at this time.)