Once you start working out and are trying to lose weight you go hard at it, you make sure you are pushing yourself in the workout sessions and are religiously following the diet plan. Even on your cheat day, you feel it is necessary that you maintain your healthy habits so instead of drinking the regular soda you opt for the diet version of it, that doesn’t have nasty sugars in it. What about that cup of coffee in the morning? You avoid sugar again and go for sweetener. After all, it is better for your health right? Or is it?
What are Sweeteners?
Sweeteners are a product that is considered as food additives that stimulate the flavor of sweetness but are comprised of various chemicals and extracts. Any substance that is sweet and used as a substitute for sugar can be considered a sweetener. Though when we talk about them, we are referring to artificial sweeteners.
In the 50s, a lot of scientists were conducted multiple research and established that sugar is bad for our health as it causes diabetes, obesity, and other issues when taken in large doses. Seeing this multiple pharmaceutical companies decided to produce something known as a sweetener that would be a healthier alternative to the nasty and evil sugar, as customers were demanding an alternative, especially the ones suffering from diabetes. Companies saw this as a business opportunity, while some produced sweeteners that were somewhat healthy, others produced even worse substances such as corn syrup, which is even worse than sugar. The most common types of sweeteners available in the market are Aspartame, Neotame, Saccharin, Sucralose, and Acesulfame Potassium.
How do these Sweeteners work?
One feature of common feature among all of these sweaters is that they are all sweeter than sugar. As our tongue is filled with various taste receptors, when a compatible particle lands on a certain receptor it sends a signal to our brain telling it if it’s sweet, sour, bitter, or umami. As for these products, though they are sweeter, they are not naturally occurring or even obtained by a simple process similar to sugar production. Additionally, the reason why all these companies are advertising that their products are lower calories or zero calories is that they are not completely metabolized by our system, and some sweeteners are not metabolized at all. As you can imagine and it is the law of nature, whatever you put in something, it will result in something else. You eat food, you gain energy, and waste is excreted out, so what happens to these “zero-calorie” chemicals? Well, they stick in your stomach walls and get converted into fat.
Effects of Artificial Sweeteners
As the sweeteners were relatively new in the previous decade we couldn’t see their impact on our health. But now after such a long period of usage, their effects are evident and concerning.
- Changing the tastebuds: Now these sweeteners don’t physically alter the composition of your tastebuds but they do manage to trick your receptors. These substances train the receptors to be accustomed to their flavor and if a person happens to consume sugar after using these for a while, sugar would taste bland. Though both are bad, sugar doesn’t have similar effects on the receptors and naturally sweet foods like fruits would taste different to the people who are habitual of artificial sweeteners.
- Increased Appetite: Most individuals who are trying to lose weight opt for these sweeteners as they have fewer calories. However, recent studies have shown the truth to be quite opposite. As these are not digested by our livers, no signal of being satisfied or full is transmitted to the brain which results in consuming more food, and not just any food especially sweeter foods. It actually defeats the purpose it was built for as if you are constantly craving food even after consuming a meal it is obvious you’ll gain weight. No amount of exercise will be able to burn off that much excessive food.
- In our Gut: You must have heard of the gut bacteria, those tiny little good bacteria that help us have a good digestion system and take care of our overall health. Well, these sweeteners don’t like them much. It is observed that using artificial sweeteners for a prolonged time slowly starts to interfere with how these microbes work in our intestine resulting in poor gut health and digestion issues. As mentioned previously, these chemicals are not metabolized, they just exist in our gut, and this leads to insulin insensitivity, a condition where cells of our body become less sensitive to the amount of insulin and start to absorb less energy. Also, since bad bacteria is also present in that region of our body, they use these substances as their food source and multiply, causing even more problems for us. Simply, you can say goodbye to a healthy gut.
- Metabolic Syndrome: This is not a disease in itself but a collection of illnesses and conditions such as spiked blood pressure, excess fat around the belly, abnormal cholesterol levels, and as you can imagine these put you at a higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes, and stroke. Though other studies suggest that it actually helps lower all the mentioned problems. Both studies are the extreme ends but it is better to take the safer route and avoid these until a thorough and unbiased study is published.
- Mental health: One of the rare aspects of these substances that are often overlooked is how it affects mental health. Though the studies conducted showed that they didn’t cause any harm, however, upon closer inspection it was noticed that those studies were funded by the sweetener manufacturers. However, there was an independent study that took 40 patients with depression and changed nothing in their diet except they substituted sugar for sweeteners. Unfortunately, the study was cut short when 13 of these patients started showing severe reactions to these substances, but their mood was observed to be much negative overall. So it is safe to say if you are suffering from an existing mental condition, these might not be your best option.
The bottom line is that even though these are bad for your mental and physical health, some people and even doctors swear by these products and claim it is better than natural sweeter like honey. Whatever the case may be, moderation is the key. Consume these products but in fewer amounts and avoid any sweet flavors when possible.