Why Artificial Sweeteners Are The Worst

4 03 2013


I came across this article yesterday and became incensed. Here is another take on the subject. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may soon approve the use of aspartame in milk. Not only will it be approved, but it may not even be listed on the label!! It will make the healthy drink more appealing to kids they say. It will be lower in calories and therefore healthier they say. This, my friends, is an abomination. As I mentioned a few days ago, I like dairy products. Milk is arguably the single best form of nutrition in the world. And they now want to reduce the natural carbohydrates and inject it with chemical artificial sweeteners? Words cannot express the disgust I am feeling at this very moment.

I am. So. Very. Angry.

I am. So. Very. Angry.

What do we know about artificial sweeteners?

In general, sweeteners are much stronger than sugar, and therefore much smaller amounts of artificial sweetener is necessary to achieve a comparable level of sweetness. This is about the only positive- that there isn’t much chemical in a single serving of an artificially sweetened food.

More and more scientific studies are finding that consuming artificial sweeteners may actually increase weight gain and lead to obesity and disease. There are several hypotheses behind these findings. For one, studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can actually stimulate cravings for sweet and salty foods (ie, processed foods that make us fat).

Furthermore, since artificial sweeteners are so much more powerful than natural sugar, the glucose receptors in our bodies can become overstimulated by constant use of hyper-intense sweeteners and can limit tolerance for more complex tastes; sweet foods like fruit will become less appealing and things like vegetables will appear disgusting. In turn, more processed food will likely be eaten.



Dieters often irresponsibly rationalize that if they have a diet soda, they can eat another slice of pizza or cake, so they wind up overcompensating and eating too much. Artificial sweeteners have also been found to numb our sense of satiety, or feeling full. Is it a surprise that the prevalence of obesity has increased along with the use of artificial sweeteners? Sweet foods prepare the body for incoming calories, but when false sweetness isn’t followed by these calories, individuals appear to be driven to eat more.

We know that consuming too much sugar leads to health problems, mostly because sugar rapidly turns to glucose in the blood, causes an insulin spike, and is stored as fat unless used immediately for energy (exercise). Too much sugar for too long and people begin to develop insulin resistance, which is a precursor for diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc. Artificial sweeteners therefore seem like a great thing, as they do not increase blood glucose levels. The problem, however, is that the human body is smart. We sense these fake sugars through the same mechanisms used to sense natural sugar. Much like our tongues sense the sweetness of the chemical being consumed, the digestive system and pancreas sense the same sweetness, telling the brain and body to get ready for some simple carbohydrates. Sweetness receptors in the pancreas activate insulin secretion. Any sweetener that sets them off, whether real or fake, can affect the development of insulin resistance and ensuing disease. The same receptor (typically set off by sugar) is therefore tripped and the body turns on the mechanism that causes the body to absorb more dietary sugar and potentially convert more of that energy to fat. Blood glucose does not elevate, but the result (insulin spike) remains the same.

This is the strategy being explored by the Dairy Industry.

This is the strategy being explored by the Dairy Industry.

Additionally, several mice studies have shown that non-nutritive sweeteners make mice more efficient at absorbing sugar from their diet; humans have the same setup for this. This basically means that if two identical people ate the same diet with the same number of calories, except one person drank diet soda and the other drank water, the diet soda drinker would take up more glucose from the diet than the water drinker. Have you ever met an overweight person who consumes a lot of diet cola? It is no coincidence. Overweight individuals who make the switch from regular soda to diet soda do not typically see any weight loss, and often gain more weight. (NOTE: This makes me think back to high school. One of my classmates always drank a bottle of diet cola first thing in the morning before class. She was one of the most overweight individuals in our class; this now makes sense. If we think hard enough, I’m sure we can all think of someone we know who fits this profile.)  Several more rat studies have found that rats fed artificial sweeteners gained more weight than rats fed natural simple sugar. The artificial sweetener group also ultimately consumed more calories, had bigger appetites and put on more body fat.

Are all sweeteners the same?

The FDA has approved several artificial sweeteners, including saccharin (Sweet’N Low), aspartame (Equal), neotame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda) and stevia (Truvia). They all have similar metabolic effects, but studies have shown that some react differently in the body than others. Aspartame is a bit of an anomaly, as several studies have shown that it does not induce a severe insulin spike like other sweeteners (despite the fact that the amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid, which make up 90 percent of aspartame, are known to rapidly stimulate the release of insulin), but several other studies have shown that people consuming aspartame are far more likely to gain weight:

Sugar alcohols (polyols) seem to be a middle ground between natural and artificial sweeteners. These include maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol, etc., which are most often used to sweeten chewing gum and candy (and protein bars!). Though similar to sugar in some ways, they are not completely absorbed by the body (due to the alcohol part of their chemical structure), so they typically don’t have such a dramatic effect on blood sugar levels and have fewer calories:


Erythritol seems to be a good option, as you only have to use a bit more of the substance to reach the sweetness of sugar, and without any calories or effect on blood sugar. Again though, there has not been much research done on sugar alcohols and long-term health effects, but sugar alcohols are at least found naturally (derived from plants). They definitely appear to be a better option than artificial sweeteners, if you indeed need to go that route.

As you can tell, weight management is not as simple as calories in and calories out, as introducing our bodies to foreign substances like artificial sweeteners changes things dramatically. You may not be consuming as many calories, but you are encouraging your body to store as much fat as possible.

Other implications?

Aspartame has been linked to migraines and cancer. 75% of adverse reactions to food additives ranging from serious seizures to even death are to do with aspartame.  Monsanto, the producer of aspartame, makes significant contributions to the American Diabetes Association. Aspartame clearly seems to be the most dangerous of all artificial sweeteners. Whether or not these facts are 100% true, here is the bottom line: artificial sweeteners are not food. They fool the body and lead to nothing but undesirable results, both physically and physiologically. Since most artificial sweeteners have not been used for very long, we cannot fully know the long-term ramifications of regular ingestion. Simply put, they are unnecessary, and should be avoided. Much like the majority of the “food” on the market, we should not consume something simply because it is readily available and deemed by society to be an acceptable form of nutrition. Think for yourself, weigh your options, and take control over what you put into your body.

My recommendations?

Avoid artificial sweeteners. Limit your sugar intake. Drink lots of water.  If you can do these three things, you’ll have as much control over your weight as possible. It is actually as simple as that!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find out who is trying to pressure the FDA into allowing the use of aspartame in milk, and strike him/her right in the gullet.

Happy Monday!