Are Man Made Sweeteners Safe to Consume?
Artificial sweeteners can be found in a variety of foods, including ice cream, baked goods, and coffee drinks. They're popular because they allow you to enjoy sweet foods with less added sugar while also being calorie-free. This could be beneficial to diabetics and people who are trying to cut down on their sugar intake. In general, the average American consumes far more added sugar than the recommended daily limit of 9.5 teaspoons, and artificial sweeteners provide a way to get around this without completely eliminating certain foods from one's diet. Is this, however, a healthy way of behaving? Are artificial sweeteners healthy in and of themselves? Let's look at some of the specifics.
Artificial Sweeteners: What Are They?
Artificial sweeteners are exactly what they sound like: sugar substitutes created chemically in a lab. They're highly processed and 200–600 times sweeter than sugar, so they require far less sugar to provide sweetness. Artificial sweeteners are also non-nutritive, which means they don't contain any nutrients or calories. Artificial sweeteners are regulated as food additives by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the artificial sweeteners currently in use are generally considered safe. That isn't to say that there haven't been studies linking artificial sweeteners to a variety of health risks and issues.
Saccharin (Sweet and Low), aspartame (Equal), and sucralose are the most common artificial sweeteners found in our foods and sold separately for use in things like coffee and at-home baking (Splenda). Stevia is another popular sugar replacement, but others argue that since it originates from a plant, it is not an artificial sweetener. Artificial sweeteners, unlike sugar, do not increase blood sugar or insulin levels substantially when eaten, thus they may assist diabetics maintain blood sugar control. Artificial sweeteners, on the other hand, are believed to be beneficial for weight loss since they contain no additional sugar or calories.
For some people, replacing high-calorie, high-sugar meals with artificially sweetened versions may have an opposing impact if they deliberately or unconsciously balance them with additional high-calorie, high-sugar foods. In fact, I've seen that clients who eat artificially sweetened meals report feeling less satisfied afterward and having more desires for sweets in general.
Furthermore, artificial sweeteners may alter the way we taste food due to their sweetness. A new study discovered persistent changes in taste perception and a lower sweet taste threshold among those who drink artificially sweetened drinks. This may alter our perceptions of other naturally sweetened foods, such as fruit, and make them less attractive.
Artificial sweeteners were consistently related to weight gain, higher food consumption, changed blood sugar management, reduced satiety signaling, and changes in the gut microbiota, according to another study. Artificial sweeteners may have an impact on taste receptors and the release of hormones that govern blood sugar regulation and our hunger and fullness signals, according to these results. Several animal studies in this study also suggested that artificial sweeteners may have a detrimental effect on gut microflora by decreasing the variety of gut bacteria. This is worrisome since we know that good gut flora supports immunity, hormone synthesis, and digestive system regulation.
The solution to the question presented here is a little more complicated. Artificial sweeteners may be a good option for some individuals with diabetes if they help them manage their blood sugar. However, eating too much of anything (including Brussels sprouts!) may not be good for your health in the long run, so it's essential to keep track of what you're eating. It's also feasible to keep blood sugar under control by eating a healthy diet and avoiding artificial sweeteners. This is the strategy I use with customers most of the time.
Because the current evidence is so varied and contains some worrisome aspects, I would suggest restricting artificial sweeteners for usually healthy individuals without diabetes. If you use a lot of artificial sweeteners, it may take some time to adjust your taste buds to a new normal. Weaning, or progressively reducing artificial sweeteners, is beneficial and may ultimately lead to increased sensitivity to naturally sweet foods. It's also a good idea to take a look at your whole diet and figure out where you can live without artificial sweeteners and where you may desire them on occasion (e.g., in some coffee beverages). Remember that life and nutrition are all about striking a balance and seeing the larger picture.