Here are some of the surprising (and scary) things I learned about artificial sweeteners:
They are everywhere!
Artificial sweeteners are found in unexpected places, such as toothpaste, oral medications (including cough syrup), chewing gum, yogurt, frozen dinners and even baby food! The average American ingests 24 pounds of artificial sweeteners each year.
They are addictive!
Artificial sweeteners affect the parts of the brain that control addiction. They are hundreds of times sweeter than natural sugars, and over time they make your taste buds crave more and more sweetness. (Here’s a real-world example: a barista I know has a regular customer who asks for 17 packets of Splenda to be mixed into her frozen coffee drink every day!)
They can make you gain weight!
- The taste of sweet foods, even those with no actual sugar in them, makes your body release insulin. The release of insulin produces spikes in blood sugar, which quickly makes you feel hungry again.
- Studies suggest that artificial sweeteners hinder the body’s production of GLP-1, a hormone that regulates blood sugar and causes the feeling of being full.
- Research has shown that people who use artificial sweeteners are more likely to be overweight than those who use sugar.
- A study of people who drink diet soda on a daily basis showed they have a 36% higher risk of metabolic syndrome, which includes increased fat around the waistline, high blood pressure and insulin resistance that can lead to diabetes.
- The same study of people who drink diet soda daily showed that they have a 67% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Artificial sweeteners can cause overactive bladder, meaning more trips to the restroom.
- Some artificial sweeteners, called sugar alcohols, often found in gums, baked goods and candy can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and intestinal cramps.
- Since excess body fat increases the risk of certain cancers (of the breast, colon, esophagus, kidney and pancreas), and artificial sweeteners can cause increased body fat, researchers see a link between artificial sweeteners and these particular cancers.
How I quit
Although I could have cut down gradually, I instead chose to go “cold turkey.” I gave up all sweeteners (natural and artificial) for a period of 3 weeks, though I did allow myself just one teaspoon of raw sugar in my morning coffee. I avoided drinking alcohol during those three weeks because the body processes it as sugar. I studied labels: choosing not to eat processed foods with any kind of added sweetener. When I wanted something sweet I ate fresh fruit.
At the end of the 3 weeks, my taste for sweets had apparently been reset. I found I was no longer craving sugar. I’ve been careful not to fall back into old eating habits. I use small amounts of raw sugar to sweeten coffee and tea, and I eat fruit for dessert. I had planned to bake some low-sugar goodies when my 21-day cleanse was over, but I haven’t because—amazingly—my desire for cookies and cake has mostly disappeared.
My fears about gaining weight did not materialize; I actually lost a few pounds—from around my middle. I feel better physically because I’m not hungry all the time. I feel better emotionally too, because I know I’m treating my body better.
If you’re concerned about how artificial sweeteners may be affecting your health, but you don’t want to take the drastic course I did, that’s okay. Consider drinking one less diet soda each day or using one less packet of sweetener in your coffee. Even small changes can add up and make a healthy difference.
Photo via Pixabay