Americans are clearly losing the battle of the bulge. Over 42% of Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The average American consumes 17 teaspoons (over 70 grams) every day. This intake translates into over 55 pounds of added sugar per person per year. This over-consumption of sugar is culpable for the rates of metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, which affects approximately 30 million Americans.
In order to manage weight and blood-glucose levels, should Americans forgo added sugars and satisfy their sweet tooth with zero-calorie/zero-sugar artificial sweeteners?
It may seem logical to replace real sugar with the fake stuff. However, consuming lots of fake sugar (think: Splenda, Sweet N Low, Nutrasweet, etc.) poses several health problems that may be just as problematic as consuming lots of real sugar.
Gut Health & Artificial Sweeteners
A decade ago, the concept of gut health was known only to natural health advocates. But these days, the topic of gut health and the gut microbiome is widespread. Basically, gut health is associated with the diversity and number of bacteria strains living mostly in the large intestine (colon). Gut health is associated with every aspect of health and wellness. Mood, immunity, digestion, inflammation and energy levels are profoundly impacted by which strains of bacteria and how many of each are residing in your gut.
Eating too much sugar creates an imbalance of gut bacteria. Most notably, high sugar consumption causes yeast to overpopulate, thus crowding out the beneficial bacteria.
But consuming artificial sugar or as they are also called, non caloric sweeteners (NCS) also negatively impacts gut health.
The research is mixed on this. However, recent research like this study from Israel shows that one NCS that’s becoming very popular—Neotame (approved by the FDA in 2002)—reduced the diversity of the gut microbiome.
Another study, this one from Israel, researchers found that in addition to neotame, five other common fake sugars (aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, advantame and acesulfame potassium-k) caused e. Coli bacteria to release toxins in the gut. The study was performed on mice so more research is needed to see if the same result occurs in humans.
More Reasons Why Artificial Sweeteners May Harm Human Health
In the defense of artificial sweeteners, some people point out that in studies that associate NCS with cancer, rodents were fed an amount several times their body weight. Thus, having one packet of Equal, Splenda or Sweet N’ Low is safe.
The link between artificial sweeteners and cancer is indeed controversial. But there are other reasons you may want to avoid NCS.
For starters, if you have diabetes, artificial sweeteners have been shown to stimulate the release of insulin. The amount of insulin secreted as a result of the consumption of NCS is relatively small (relative to consuming a can of regular soda). However, if your goal is to manage or even send diabetes into remission, you should limit your intake of insulin-releasing foods and drinks. The problem is that artificial sweeteners are so pervasive in the US food supply. This is especially true of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
HFCS is known to disrupt the communication between the gut-brain axis. Appetite control is profoundly affected by the effectiveness of how the gut and brain communicate with each other. When you consume ketchup, salad dressing or any of the thousands of other food products with HFCS, your brain doesn’t get the signal from your gut that you’ve had enough to eat. Consequently, you end up overeating.
Fake sweeteners also stimulate your brain’s reward center. If you eat a cookie baked with a synthetic zero-calorie sweetener like Splenda, your brain is going to tell you to eat more cookies. Yes, NCS don’t have calories. But butter, flour and chocolate chips do.
If you have a sweet tooth, then, what should you do? Real sugar is bad. Fake sugar is bad. How can you satisfy your appetite for sweets when both may be harmful to health—in excess? The answer is to satisfy your appetite by eating more healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish like salmon, eggs, etc.). If you can reduce your added sugar and artificial consumption over the course of a few weeks, you will reset your taste buds. Eventually, you may be turned off by the taste of artificial sweeteners. When you have a craving for something sweet, have a handful of farmers market berries. Over time, you will be amazed by how naturally sweet glyphosate-free berries taste.