I’m often asked if it’s ok to drink and/or eat foods make with artificial sweeteners.
My answer is always no. It’s not ok. Artificial sweeteners are not a healthy substitute for sugar.
Artificial sweeteners can’t trick and satisfy your brain, leaving you hungry for more. The authors of a new study argue that for the brain to get pleasure from eating sweets, they have to be accompanied by energy (calories). They use the term ‘sugar-to-energy pathway.’ Without the taste of sugar translating to energy, dopamine–the brain hormone that controls pleasure and reward–is not released properly. Without dopamine, you don’t feel the pleasure, and that’s when you’re left hungry for more.
Artificial sweeteners miss the point
Switching from energy sweeteners or no-energy artificial sweeteners doesn’t prompt you to make a lifestyle change. One of the statements the authors make that I agree with:
“Humans frequently ingesting low-calorie sweet products [products made with artificial sweeteners] in a state of hunger or exhaustion may be more likely to ‘relapse’ and choose high calorie alternatives in the future.
They continue to say:
“The results suggest that a ‘happy medium’ could be a solution; combining sweeteners with minimal amounts of sugar so that energy metabolism doesn’t drop, while caloric intake is kept to a minimum.”
That’s where I disagree with them. My suggestion for a ‘happy medium’ is a small amount of natural sweetness accompanied by protein or fat. I keep saying this over and over again, you want to lower the amount of sweetness you need to satisfy your taste buds. Artificial sweeteners just keep you addicted to the taste of sugar. Instead of combining sugar with artificial sugar (both bad for you), incorporating protein or fat will slow down the sugar and insulin response, provide energy, and trigger the satiety hormones to kick in.
Artificial Sweeteners Lead to Weight Gain
One study followed 474 people for 10 years and found that people who drank diet soda packed on more belly fat and had 70% greater increase in their waist circumference than those who didn’t drink soda. People who averaged two or more diet sodas a day had 500 percent larger increases in waist circumference! Belly fat increases your risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems.
Safety of Artificial Sweeteners
While approved by the FDA, safety of artificial sweeteners is questionable. Many reports link Aspartame use to brain tumors, neurological conditions, diabetes, birth defects, food sensitivities, and other side effects. You’ll find reports on both sides: some warning against it and others assuring its safety. There’s too much Aspartame in our food and we don’t know the long-term effects. Avoid for a cleaner body and better health.
The other sweeteners that’s often considered safe is sucralose. However, consuming it can reduce the number of healthy bacteria in your gut and increase the pH of your gut (so bad bugs can easily grow). I see many people with bacterial overgrowth, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and food sensitivities, which all result from gut dysbiosis (imbalance in gut bacteria levels). The side effects of these conditions are pain, discomfort, and low quality of life. There’s no way I can tell someone that sucralose-containing products are safe.
So What’s for Dessert?
Honey in small amounts is my go-to for a small dessert. When I’m craving something sweet I mix 1-2 tablespoons of almond or peanut butter, 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/2 tsp honey, and cinnamon. I use it as a dip for fruits, like strawberries, blueberries, bananas, and apples. Adding nut butter balances the sugar and helps improve satiety.
Have you ever tasted the natural sweetness of almond peanut butter? A cinnamon stick? If you quit sugar, you can!