Artificial sweeteners might seem like a dream come true for those trying to slim down while still getting a sweet fix – it’s almost too good to be true. People often don’t realize that although artificial sweeteners don’t add calories, they still have a powerful affect on our physiology.
Diet foods have the ability to inhibit weight loss, increase hunger perpetuate sugar cravings – all while bringing you further from your health goals.
If you’ve ever tried a diet soda or added an equal packet to your coffee, you already know that sugar substitutes are remarkably sweeter than the real thing. In fact, aspartame is 200-400 times and saccharin (aka sucralose) is 600 times sweeter than sugar. This is one of the major reasons why artificial sweeteners have a potent affect on how we feel.
My goal for writing this article is to get you to think twice next time you reach for a splenda packet, diet soda, sugar free food, and even gum. So here goes – the affects sweeteners have on your body:
They perpetuate cravings
When you eat or drink foods with artificial sweeteners, the digestive system signals to the brain to expect a surge of glucose and prepares the hormonal system for a huge influx of sugar. Because no sugar is entering the system, glucose levels drop rapidly and the brain goes into a panic mode. This is what translates as a food craving. This is the point at which you find yourself slightly delirious and eating snacks that are high in sugar and fat.
They inhibit weight loss
As we explored above above, artificial sweeteners have a potent affect on the body’s hormonal system. Insulin is the body’s primary fat storage hormone that is released by the pancreas after we eat foods high in carbs / sugar. Sugar substitutes signal a release of insulin that not only distresses the brain, but also will sabotage any weight loss efforts and contribute to excess belly fat.
They alter your mood
Most people will be able to tell you that sugar replacements like aspartame are calorie-free, but seldom will they be able to recall what it is actually made from. Aspartame breaks down into aspartic acid, which is toxic to brain tissue and causes anxiety and restlessness. Another metabolite of aspartame, called phenylalanine, depletes the body’s production of serotonin - the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. These two mechanisms are major reasons why aspartame will make you feel both depressed and anxious.
They increase the risk of long-term health issues
Metabolites from both saccharin and aspartame create toxicity in the system, which ultimately promotes inflammation and disease. Aspartame contains methanol - a compound that is ultimately metabolized into formaldehyde (a cumulative poison). The EPA recommends no more than 7.8 mg of methanol daily, but diet coke provides a whopping 14 mg once it is metabolized. It's incredible that these are even allowed on the market - but the more you know the better. Now you have the power to make the decision for yourself.
If you suffer from hypothyroidism, you may want to reconsider products like splenda that contain Sucralose / saccharin. Sucralose contains chlorine that disrupts iodine uptake in the thyroid, which compromises optimal thyroid function and can contribute to metabolic syndrome and "stubborn" fat.
So what should I do Instead?
Eat real food. We are often so wrapped up in what is missing from packaged foods that we often forget to pay attention to what is in the food or drinks we’re actually consuming. Real sugar (ex: coconut sugar, honey, raw sugar) is better than their fake and calorie free counterparts.
I recommend all of my clients to eliminate sweeteners entirely from their diet. It might seem hard at first but the dependency on them only contributes to that cycle. With a bit of willpower you can break it, too.
Start by replacing with a small serving of natural sugar - if you add splenda to your coffee consider replacing it with raw sugar, honey or even a stevia leaf. The first couple days might feel difficult, but the body tends to regulate after 10 days without sweeteners. You’ll start to find yourself tasting the flavors of your food and savoring the natural sweetness of fresh fruits.
If you need a sweet fix, here are some of my personal favorite dessert-y options:
- A couple of pieces of dark chocolate
- Watermelon blended with fresh mint
- Raw cacao and date bites
- Apple slices with cinnamon
- Warmed chocolate and almond milk with 1 tsp raw honey and cinnamon
These changes may feel strange at first, but I’d like to you traverse the difficult moments – because your and your family’s health is worth it. You deserve to live the healthiest and most fantastic version of yourself.