The Truth Behind Artificial Sweeteners: How Safe are They?
We instinctively feel healthier when opting for a Coke zero over the regular one, to pick a ‘280 calories per pint’ of ice-cream, or simply any products marketed as ‘sugar free’. The ‘sugar free’ market has been booming with the increasing demand for low-calorie products by the health conscious and those on their weight-loss journey.
Yes, they are often lower in calories and viewed as guilt-free pleasures to satisfy our sugar cravings, but are they really healthy for us?
WHAT EXACTLY ARE 'SUGAR FREE' PRODUCTS AND WHAT IS THE ISSUE?
Sugar substitutes are sweeteners that replace the regular table sugar (sucrose) that we are all familiar with. Among these sugar substitutes, artificial sweeteners are one of them, also known as synthetic sugar substitutes that are often many times sweeter than sugar. These intense sweeteners are an attractive alternative because only a smaller fraction is needed compared to normal sugar to achieve the same amount of sweetness. It’s even more appealing as they add no calories to your diet.
Commonly found sugar substitutes in Singapore also include Aspartame, Saccharin, Stevia, Xylitol and Monk Fruit sweetener. These artificial sweeteners are acceptable when taken in small amounts, occasionally. However, they only provide temporary satisfaction just like sugar intake and may not be worth consuming afterall!
Let's take a look at the perpetual cycle of sugar addiction:
See the counterintuitive effect it has? Artificial sweeteners fuel the sugar addiction cycle with its high sweetness intensity instead of reducing our sugar cravings. In short, they prevent us from sustaining the healthy habits we try so hard to incorporate into our lifestyle!
ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS ARE JUST PLAYING A MIND TRICK ON US!
When our tongue detects sweetness, it alerts our brain that we are intaking calories. This sends a signal to our pancreas to prepare to release insulin, a substance to absorb and break down sugar sent to our cells, creates energy for our muscles, and stores the rest as fat for later use.
The problem starts when we consume artificial sweeteners without any calories. Studies show that after all the signalling but no calories show up, the body releases more insulin, leading to insulin resistance overtime. This is also known as glucose intolerance, where it causes glucose to remain circulating in our bloodstream instead of nourishing our cells. Such cases are prone to Type 2 diabetes, cholesterol issues and higher chances of weight gain.
In fact, an observational study of French women showed that sugar-sweetened beverages and low-calorie sweeteners were linked with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. High intake of such drinks were found to be associated with weight gain, due to lower satiety and increased blood sugar and insulin levels which led to insulin resistance.
Some synthetic sweeteners are also found to provoke shifts in our gut microbiome, for instance xylitol and isomalt. A study by Suez et al in 2014 showed that the administration of sweeteners showed modifications in the intestinal microbiota, which may cause diarrhoea.
Another research also found that aspartame and saccharin may lead to an increased risk of irritability and depression.
Seems like artificial sweeteners are chemically processed concoctions that have not been proven to be safe for long-term human consumption. Though more in-depth studies have to be done, sugar alternatives have to be taken in moderation, or better yet, avoid it as much as possible!
making up for zero calories...
An unhealthy yet common mindset many of us have - “Saved calories means I can let go and feast later.”
We tend to adopt compensating behaviour, especially when it comes to desserts and sweets! The devil in our heads may persuade us to lose all control when it comes to other foods since artificially sweetened items are lower in calories! In terms of calorie intake, such sweeteners appear just as harmful as table sugar.
A popular study conducted with rats proved this principle. These rats were trained to associate one flavour with an artificially sweetened food and another flavour with a high-calorie food. Results showed that the rats ate more food after being given a pre-feed with the same flavour of the sweetened food, indicating that they had consumed larger quantities of food to make up for the low-calorie artificially sweetened treat!
DETRACTING FROM HEALTHY AND NUTRITIOUS FOODS
Our brain may also change the way we taste food!
"Overstimulation of artificial sweeteners may limit our tolerance for more complex tastes" - Dr David Ludwig.
This means that if you frequently consume artificial sweeteners, you may begin to find less intensely sweetened foods such as fruits and vegetables less appealing!
So how do we try not to fall prey to it?
Remember that while sugar alternatives offer some benefits, they can’t be used as an excuse for you to neglect wholefoods. Moderation and having a balanced diet is key. This calls for mindful eating, and being aware of what you’re putting into your beautiful body!
Curb your sugar cravings with natural sweeteners like fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fibre and protein. They come with other nutrients and minerals too! And also not forgetting that these real foods are what drives our creations at The Clean Addicts! We mainly use dates to naturally sweeten our treats!
Check out what goes into our fudge/mochi cakes, protein balls and mochi muffins here.
Alina Petre, M. R. (2020, August 19). Artificial Sweeteners: Good or Bad? Retrieved from Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/artificial-sweeteners-good-or-bad
Harvard T.H. Chan. (2022). Low-Calorie Sweeteners . Retrieved from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/artificial-sweeteners/
HealthXchange.sg. (2021). Artificial Sweeteners: How Safe Are They? Retrieved from HealthXchange.sg: https://www.healthxchange.sg/food-nutrition/food-tips/artificial-sweeteners-how-safe
Hunter Myuz, M. C. (2019, March 29). Trick or Treat? How Artificial Sweeteners Affect the Brain and Body. Retrieved from Frontiers for Young Minds: https://kids.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frym.2019.00051#:~:text=The%20consumption%20of%20artificial%20sweeteners,such%20as%20type%202%20diabetes.
Make Me Sugar Free. (2020). What Sugar Cravings Mean. Retrieved from Make Me Sugar Free: https://www.makemesugarfree.com/post/what-sugar-cravings-mean
Mayo Clinic. (2020, October 8). Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes . Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/artificial-sweeteners/art-20046936