One of the first decisions we seem to make when we start a diet is that sugar, candy and sweet stuff become simply off-limits. This is why most people who embrace the aim of losing weight, tend to switch from sugary soft drinks to diet ones, from whole-milk ice cream to sugar-free desserts, and from old-fashioned cane sugar to artificial sweetener.
Unfortunately, studies in recent years have shown that instead of promoting weight loss, most sugar-substitutes tend to do exactly the opposite! Contrary to popular belief, research has found that artificial sweeteners, like aspartame and saccarine, can further stimulate your appetite instead of curbing it, thereby resulting in increased food cravings.
A Brazilian research team confirmed this in a study last year, which concluded that when your body gets a sweet taste without the calories that should go with it, it demands compensation by increasing the need for food containing carbohydrates and fats. On the other hand, natural sugar tends to lower food consumption when compared to sugar-substitutes, in that the calories it contains trigger certain physical biological responses which keep one’s energy consumption constant.
In 2008, Dr Susan Swithers and Terry Davidson, two American psychologists, published their study explaining that with the ingestion of artificial sweeteners, the pancreas releases insulin, which is a hormone for the accumulation of body fat. When these carbs never arrive, one not only feels hungrier than before, but the hormones have nothing to work on, thereby leading a person further towards obesity.
It was Eran Elinov, from the Institute of Science in Israel, who came up with the theory that when artificial sweeteners are taken for a lengthy period of time, they could also alter so-called ‘gut bacteria’, which are vital to our metabolism and the digestion of food. Artificial sweeteners seemed to encourage the growth of some types of bacteria, while destroying others. This unbalanced pattern is also one which can be found in people with diabetes. Elinov also found that due to the change in gut bacteria, blood glucose is raised to higher levels.
This could further incur what is known as metabolic syndrome. This name groups together and defines a number of issues having to do with energy utilisation and storage, and which increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Most of these studies are still just like baby-steps when it comes to understanding all the ramifications of the use of artificial sweeteners. However, they all point to the fact that the body is a very delicate machine, which is easily unbalanced and unsettled, once it is cheated of what should be a natural healthy intake.
Personally, I do not think that the bell is worth the candle. I decided that I am going to try to exchange my diet sodas with water, my sugar free ice-cream with fruit, and start to train myself to drink my coffee either with half a spoonful of sugar, or just plain nothing. It will be hard, but in the end, it is better to be safe than sorry!