We understand that obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer is associated with high sugar consumption. In response, many Americans are using various sugar-substitute products in their drinks as a way to cut sugar consumption. Unfortunately, sugar substitutes have unique problems of their own.
Sugar substitutes sound like they would be better for us because non-sugar sweeteners (artificial and natural) contain few, if any, calories. However, they are actually hundreds of times stronger in relaying the sweet sensation to our brain. Our brains are simply not designed to handle that type of intense chemical reaction.
It is true that replacing caloric with non-caloric sweeteners reduces the energy density of foods and beverages. However, whether reducing energy density in this manner always translates into reduction of total daily energy intake, lower body weight, or improved metabolic health is much less certain.
People are commonly given messages that artificially-sweetened products are healthy, are “natural”, will help them lose weight, or will help prevent weight gain. The data to support those claims is not very strong, and although it seems like common sense that diet sodas would not be as problematic as regular sodas, common sense is not always right.
Several studies in humans have shown that consumption of artificially sweetened beverages is also associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome as well as cardiovascular disease. The exact same diseases that we were trying to avoid by lessening sugar intake.
How bad are artificially sweetened drinks? You only have to drink one artificially sweetened drink per day to significantly increase your risk of health problems. People who regularly consume artificial sweeteners are less likely to be able to stop consuming sweet foods and seem to overeat all foods in general.
Similarly, studies in mice and rats have shown that consumption of non-caloric sweeteners dampens physiological responses to sweet taste, causing the animals to overindulge in calorie-rich, sweet-tasting food and pack on extra pounds.
Taken together, the findings suggest that artificial sweeteners increase the risk for health problems to an extent similar to that of sugar and may also exacerbate the negative effects of sugar.
Our bodies were designed through evolution to process natural sugar and that is why I suggest using real table sugar as a sweetener in tea or coffee. I advise my patients to avoid all soda drinks (regular or diet), energy drinks, or heavily sweetened teas and coffee drinks. Once my patients make the break from non-sugar sweeteners they feel much better, notice a decline in their hunger, and often lose weight.
© 2014. Dr. Patrick Nemechek. All Rights Reserved.