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Written by Alison Mooradian   
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Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Artificial Sugar

In an effort to eat healthier, it can be easy to reach for the sugar-free cookies at the grocery store. But, is that really a healthy alternative? Are sugar substitutes the answer to avoiding the negative effects of sugar ?

Avoiding Refined Sugar
The negative health impacts of refined sugar have been well documented. First, it’s been found to be addictive. By consuming excessive amounts of sugar, our brains become accustomed to the reward signals triggered by sugar consumption. A study conducted in France that was presented at the Society for Neuroscience 2007 annual meeting showed that when rats (who metabolize sugar similarly to humans) were given the choice between sugar water and cocaine, 94% of the rats chose the sugar water. Dr. Frank Lipman, the founder of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York, shares, “[w]e become conditioned to need something sweet to feel complete or satisfied, and continue to self-medicate with sugar as adults, using it to temporarily boost our mood or energy.”1

Additionally, excessive sugar consumption is linked to a hefty list of health problems. Some examples of health issues include a weaker immune system, heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), obesity, and chronic fatigue. Sugar consumption weakens the immune system because sugars actually prevent vitamin C from entering white blood cells, which makes your white blood cells less productive. Sugars also trigger insulin release in the pancreas, which in turn triggers the liver’s triglyceride production. Triglyceride production is linked to heart disease and obesity.2

History of Artificial Sweeteners
In the 1870s, researchers accidentally discovered the first artificial sweetener, saccharin. These researchers were trying to find coal tar derivatives and discovered that their byproducts were sweet. Food manufacturers were excited because saccharin was cheaper and sweeter than actual sugar. By the 1950s and 1960s, researchers had created several other types, such as aspartame, that contained zero calories, making these products the foundation of trendy weight-loss diets.3

Diabetics were another one of the initial groups to buy foods that were artificially sweetened, because it allowed them to enjoy sweet-tasting foods without a spike in their glucose levels.4

Reading Food Labels
It is difficult to decipher when a food product contains an artificial sweetener. However, more products than one would expect contain them. For example, over a third of yogurts sold contain an artificial sweetener.5 While the United States Food and Drug Administration sets limits on what it considers to be a safe amount of sugar substitute, it does not require artificial sweeteners to be on nutrition labels. Sugars are unfortunately lumped all together on nutrition labels under one category, which includes natural sources of sugar and artificial sweeteners together.6

Avoiding Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are not a fail-proof replacement for sugar. The Food and Drug Administration has approved five artificial sweeteners for public consumption: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. Stevia, a well-known natural low-calorie sweetener, has also been approved.7

Artificial Sweetener ii

However, Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity and weight-loss specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, has several concerns about artificial sweeteners. First, there is the mental component. For example, when people eat or drink items with artificial sweeteners, they trick themselves into thinking that it’s okay to, for example, eat a large piece of cake later that day.8

Another concern is that artificial sweeteners can actually change the way people taste other foods. Dr. Ludwig explained, “Non-nutritive sweeteners are far more potent than table sugar and high-fructose corn syrupÖ Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes.” This means that after regularly consuming foods with artificial sweeteners, an apple may not taste as sweet to that person. This leads to a cycle of a person continually choosing artificially sweetened foods over whole, natural foods, which could lead to obesity issues.9

While there is controversy over whether or not artificial sweeteners should be avoided, this is the advice Dr. Ludwig gives to the parents of his patients, in which he compares artificial sweeteners to methadone, the drug used to wean heroin addicts off of heroin:
Diet sweeteners are like methadone ó they are better than sugar but the goal is to use them as a method of getting off sweeteners, and not as a substitute for sugar. So what I say is if you’re using artificial sweeteners as a way to kick a heavy sugar habit, then great. But if you’re using them as an excuse to keep eating sweet foods and substituting one reward pathway for another, then ultimately they are not going to be helpful.10
It doesn’t always have to be all or nothing, perhaps you should overall try to limit sugar, both real and fake, but allow yourself a couple of cheats here and there. Focus on finding pleasure in the natural sweets nature has to offer such as in fruit

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Last Updated ( Monday, 10 July 2017 )