Ruby Pryde - Apr 20 2021

All things artificial sweetener

The name says it all - something that makes a food, drink, drug or even a mouthwash, artificially sweet.

Also called Nonnutritive Sweeteners (NNS), these additives are designed to provide more intense sweetness without the use of sugar, with little to no calories per gram.

Now, you might be thinking that this sounds pretty damn good, another piece of chocolate maybe? Not necessarily. Whether these artificial sweeteners are a good or a bad thing has been a serious source of debate. 

The lowdown

An average 350ml can of sugar sweetened soda is roughly 150 calories, almost all of them a result of sugar.

With the obesity epidemic running rampant across the globe, the demand for ‘diet’ foods and drinks that allow us to enjoy the things we love, without the hefty caloric intake, has only increased. Whilst they have arguably been used to help combat obesity rates and associated illnesses like diabetes, there is little evidence to support that artificial sweeteners contribute to better overall health. In fact, they may even harm it.

The most commonly used artificial sweeteners in Australia are Acesulfame K, Alitame, Aspartame, Cyclamate, Neotame, Saccharin and Sucralose.

To put the intensity of these sweeteners into perspective; Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than regular table sugar. Sucralose, 600 times sweeter. Neotame, 13,000 times. And Advantame rolls in at a staggering 20,000 times sweeter than regular table sugar.

Which in hindsight, doesn’t seem all bad! Due to the fact that you would need to use considerably less of each in order to achieve the desired sweetness of whatever it is you are cooking, baking or consuming. However, extensive and somewhat misleading marketing by manufacturers of artificial sweeteners has led (like more or less everything marketed to us these days) to the overuse and even abuse of artificial sweeteners. 

So, what are the effects?

How the body and brain respond to these sweeteners can be relatively complex and whilst still under debate, there are some things you definitely should take into consideration.

The ‘food reward pathway’.
There is research suggesting that artificial sweeteners may not activate the food reward pathway, which is what keeps you feeling satisfied after you’ve eaten.

Artificial sweeteners land upon your taste buds, signalling to the brain that nutrition or food has arrived. But, when the artificial sweeteners reach the small intestine through digestion, the receptors find no nutrition. In turn, the small intestine sends a message back to the brain that it has fallen subject to false advertising.

The appestat, which is the part of your brain that is responsible for triggering satiety, then sends out a message to keep eating as a means to regulate energy levels (hello, overeating), as well as process the artificial toxins from the body.

In fact, research may even suggest that some artificial sweeteners have been linked to neurotoxins that can cause damage to the brain and nervous system.

Changing the way we taste our food.
Taste receptors on your tongue identify food molecules. So when a receptor and molecule perfectly align, this sends a signal to your brain, allowing you to identify the taste. And whilst artificial sweetener molecules are similar enough to sugar molecules to fit on the sweetness receptors, they are in general too different from a sugar molecule for your body to break them down into calories.

Hence artificial sweeteners having little to no caloric density. Not only are we dealing with the potential trickery of our digestive system, but the intensity of these additives is beginning to change the way we taste our food.

In comparison, a small or even trace amount of artificial sweeteners can provide levels of sweetness that would require much higher quantities of regular table sugar in order to compete. Due to the potential for overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use, this may begin to skew one's tolerance for more ‘real’ or complex tastes. Things like finding regular fruits less appealing, or struggling to stomach non sweet foods like vegetables, is a reported side effect of those that regularly consume artificial sweeteners.

Most nonnutritive sweeteners can also cause side effects like gas, bloating, or allergic reactions. 

What about weight management?

The biggest push for artificial sweeteners ultimately is based on their ability to curb obesity, but is that actually the case?

Participants in a San Antonio Heart Study who drank more than 21 diet drinks per week were found to be twice as likely to become overweight or obese as people who didn’t drink diet soda. Which, due to the intention of artificial sweeteners, may seem somewhat contradictory.

The explanation? Artificial sweeteners may prevent us from being able to correlate sweetness and caloric intake. Meaning that, not only are we more likely to crave more sweets, but we are therefore more likely to choose sweeter foods over more whole and nutritionally dense foods, in turn, gaining weight.

And then there's your gut health

Artificial sweeteners are classified a toxin to the body due to the fact that they are manufactured as opposed to real food or nutrition. And because our gut microbiome is extremely sensitive to environmental stressors, the addition of artificial sweeteners into our diets may be contributing to poorer gut health across the population.

Poor gut health is linked to things like weight gain, poor blood sugar control, a weakened immune system, increased stress, poor sleep, and just about anything else you can think of.

Composition and function of gut bacteria varies between each individual, and no two guts are the same. In one study on Saccharin, four out of the seven participants' gut bacteria balance was disrupted, with those same four participants showing signs of poor blood sugar control.

It has also been noted that some people may experience side effects to consuming artificial sweeteners, like headaches, sore stomachs, fatigue, brain fog, and even depression.

The alternatives

Stevia
Stevia is a herb and is about 1000 times sweeter than sugar. Additionally, Stevia is known to assist in balancing blood sugar levels, making it ideal for anyone coming off of caffeinated beverages, weaning themselves from sweets, or are following a low sugar diet.

Honey
Antimicrobial, antibacterial, anti fungal and packed full of antioxidants. Raw and organic honey is a powerhouse not only for your health, but for making things deliciously sweet without nasty chemicals. It’s important to note however, that honey will spike your blood sugar in the same way as sugar, so may not be the best alternative for those with diabetes or insulin resistance.

Maple Syrup
Maple syrup isn’t just the sugar laden pancake topper that we are all so used to! Real and organic maple syrup is packed full of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that we sometimes lack in our diets. Similar to honey however, maple syrup contains approximately 14 grams of sugar per tablespoon, and shouldn’t be used in excess.

Blackstrap Molasses
Much like maple syrup, this rich and dark sweetener is packed full of vitamins and minerals and is lower on the glycemic index than other sweeteners, meaning that won’t spike your blood sugar as much as conventional sugar.

Monkfruit
Native to parts of China and Northern Thailand, the monkfruit plant is cultivated for its fruit extract, which can create a sweetness 250 times stronger than table sugar. With zero calories or carbohydrates, it doesn’t raise blood glucose levels, making it a popular choice for sugar health conscious foodies, sugar-free devotees, and those suffering from diabetes. 

Article credit :
https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/artificial-sweeteners-sugar-free-but-at-what-cost-201207165030https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/artificial-sweeteners-good-or-bad#appetite-amp-weighthttps://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/nutrition/sugar/articles/sweeteners#:~:text=The%20most%20commonly%20used%20artificial,(955%2C%20e.g.%20Splenda).How To Eat Move and Be Healthy, Paul ChekEndotoxins, The Taste That Kills - Russell Blaylock MDhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198517/