As the evils of sugar come farther and farther into the light, people are turning to artificial alternatives to get their “sweet fix.” In the U.S., 40% of adults and 25% of children report consuming artificial sweeteners on a daily basis. Many use these sweeteners as a way to cut calories.
To many individuals, weight loss or gain is simple – take in less calories than you use and you lose weight, take in more calories than you use and you gain weight. This has triggered a calorie-counting mindset, causing the actual nutrition of an item is now considered only after checking the amount of calories it contains.
This has made zero-calorie sweeteners explode in popularity. However, research is now showing that not only do zero-calorie sweeteners impede weight loss, they can actually encourage weight gain!
Researchers at the University of Manitoba reviewed 37 different studies, over 10 years of research involving over 400,000 participants. The studies found that artificial or zero-calorie sweeteners had no consistent link to decreased body weight, body mass index (BMI) or waist size.
Instead, long-term consumption was linked to increased risk of weight gain, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues. The increased risk of weight gain is thought to be caused by a few reasons.
Firstly, the alternative sweeteners trigger cravings for other sweet things, leading to increased consumption of higher-calorie foods.
Second, the sweeteners may interfere with our ability to taste sugar. This can be devastating for diabetics. If your sense of “sweet” has been compromised by artificial sweeteners, you may consume more sugary foods, and in larger portions, making it difficult to control blood sugar.
Thirdly, individuals think that with a zero-calorie sweetener, they have calories to spare and indulge in foods (and portions) more than they usually would, leading to weight gain.
For example, a study in Australia found that while the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has declined, consuming artificially sweetened beverages is becoming more and more popular. Guess what? The rate of obesity in Australia has not decreased, but risen.
This weight gain puts individuals at increased risk for metabolic syndrome, a group of co-occurring conditions like increased blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, abnormal cholesterol levels, and unstable blood sugar.
Recent studies show that those who drink artificially-sweetened beverages may have double the risk of developing metabolic syndrome compared to individuals who do not drink diet beverages.
Studies have revealed that drinking two or more artificially-sweetened beverages per day significantly raises risk for coronary heart disease. Just one artificially sweetened beverage per day triggered hypertension (chronic high blood pressure) in women, and increased their risk for heart disease (the number 1 cause of death for women in the U.S.)
Additional research found that daily consumption of artificially – sweetened beverages significantly increased risk of heart attack, so much so, that it equaled the risk factor of those who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages daily.
Consuming traditional sugar-sweetened beverages is obviously associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. However, one European study showed the risk of developing type 2 diabetes doubles for individuals that drink artificially –sweetened diet drinks, compared to those that do not. There was even a dramatic spike in type 2 diabetes risk in those participants who were of normal weight.
People think that by avoiding “sugar” they are being healthier and treating their bodies better. What many do not know, however, are the potential effects of the artificial alternatives they turn to instead.