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Why Sweeteners are as Bad as Refined Sugar

by Joyce Haddad - November 16, 2016

Sweeteners are as bad as refined sugar, here’s why.

Artificial sweeteners are just as bad as refined sugar

First it was fat, then it was all carbohydrates, but now, sugar is the big demon that is causing 100% of our problems… or some may say. So, food companies have gone wild yet again, and have made everything sugar-free (but not really). They are still creating products that are sweet, laden with artificial flavours and artificial sweeteners. So, as soon as we see ‘sugar free’ on the label, we don’t think twice. Before we know it, we are eating / drinking the ‘sugar free’ product, thinking it’s a healthy option. Or, we’re adding sweeteners because they are calorie-free and completely safe…right? Wrong.

If you’ve been relying on sweetening your food and drinks with artificial sweeteners based on aspartame, saccharin or sucralose, you may want to rethink your options.

While the Food Standards Australia New Zealand says artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are safe, recent evidence shows they don’t actually aid in weight loss, and link them to serious health problems. Here’s the not-so-sweet truth about artificial sweeteners:

1. The more sweeteners you use, the more sweets you’ll crave

Artificial sweeteners are a lot sweeter than sugar – which means they seriously elevate our sugar cravings more and more each time we consume them. As these artificial sweeteners are, well, artificial, nothing in nature matches their intense taste. So, once we’re used to that intense sweetness, even having a ripe piece of fruit is not going to curb those sweet cravings. You’ll just keep craving sugary food, which will put you at risk of eating high-calorie, sugar-filled foods.

So what can we do? Well, it’s simple. We’ve trained our taste buds and endocrine systems to depend on sweet food and continually crave sweet food over many years. Now, we need to reverse it. We need to train our taste buds to let go of that sweetness-need. We need to wean off any type of sweetener and eat sweet foods very occasionally. Overtime, our body will be satisfied with the ‘sweetness’ it receives from natural sugars found in food like fruit or milk, resulting in no more crazy cravings!

2. They will increase the risks of weight gain and diabetes

The more we learn about the fact that calories in DON’T equal calories out anymore, the more we realise that calorie-free food is not the answer to all life’s questions. So, it’s not as simple as drinking a 0-calorie soft drink because it is better than a veggie juice that has 150 calories– it is unfortunately a lot more complicated than that.

A few long-term studies, which set off to monitor how many sugar-sweetened drinks, artificially sweetened drinks and fruit juice the participants drank, found that those who drank the most artificially sweetened drinks had higher risk for type 2 diabetes, and were twice as likely to be obese. The regular diet soft drinkers gained three times as much abdominal fat as those who didn’t drink the stuff.

There are a few explanations to go with this:

  • It goes back to my first point – “The more sweeteners you have, the more you’ll crave”. Now it’s not that the diet drink itself would have caused the weight gain, but probably the aftermath of drinking it. So these participants were drinking all this super-sweet artificial sugar, which most likely led to continuous cravings for sugary foods and drinks. And because we know very well that drinks don’t fill us up, the participants were more likely drinking the diet soft drinks and following it up with a sweet dessert to really hit that craving and fill themselves up.

  • The psychology behind “I’m eating calorie free food, so it is OK to eat anything else I want” is real. Subconsciously, when we eat something calorie-free and artificial, we tell ourselves it’s totally OK because it’s like we didn’t eat anything in the first place. Then, we lose touch with our fullness and hunger cues, so even if we do get full after a ‘calorie-free’ food/drink, we would still go on to eat something else – because, we haven’t had any ‘calories’, and we deserve more food, right? This horrible way of thinking, which happens to the best of us, sends us into binge-eating mode and causes a cascade of issues – including weight gain and therefore, possibly diabetes.

So, what can we do, you may ask again? Exactly as suggested before. Wean your taste buds and whole body off sweeteners and sweets – you’ll avoid going into sugar craving overdrive, and the negative cascade of issues that follow.

3. They can cause gut flora imbalances

Our gut is made of 100 trillion bacteria, which have an impact on our digestive health, our immune function and mental wellbeing. So it is really important to keep these guys healthy.

Research is still in its early days, but a recent study has identified that artificial sweeteners can have harmful effects on the balance of our gut bacteria.

Researchers found that individuals who consumed a large amount of artificial sweeteners: aspartame, sucralose and saccharin, had metabolic issues including higher body weight. Then, after more research, some of the subjects had elevated blood sugar levels and changes in their gut flora.

Although more research is needed, the results tell us that at least for some people, artificial sweeteners and gut flora do not work well together.

Here’s the bottom line…

We live in a world that depends on the money that comes from the weight loss industry. Our culture makes big bucks from spreading confusion, while the food industry exploits messages made by experts and completely changes them into nonsense.

So, it’s not as if when we are told to cut out processed sugar that we all start eating fruit and vegetables, beans and legumes – no, we just start eating sugar-free junk food. And if we don’t lose weight from it, we start blaming everything else except the fact that we are still eating junk food.

The bottom line? We need to go back to basics. Eat what nature gives us, not what food manufactures produce. The food industry will never give up, it will keep making suitable food that keeps up with the latest diet trend – where it be sugar-free, fat-free, gluten-free or whatever. The issue? It’s all still junk food.

If you don’t want to worry about what you’re eating, how much of it, or what harm it will cause – eat real food. From earth, not a wrapper. 

Image Credit: Health Guage 


Joyce Haddad

Joyce Haddad is a Qualified Dietitian/Nutritionist and Master Personal Trainer with a passion for health and wellbeing. Her aim as a health professional is to help the public make informed and REALISTIC nutritional choices and ensure everyone has a healthy relationship with their body and with food.