Food companies rely heavily on artificial sweeteners as sugar substitutes, allowing us to enjoy our favourite products with few kilojoules. Despite this, artificial sweeteners have developed a bad rap. One quick flick through the internet will bring up countless studies linking artificial sweeteners to disease.
But just how bad are artificial sweeteners for us? This is important to consider as many of us consume regular doses of sweeteners. Not only is artificial sugar blatantly found in products such as diet soda, protein powder and chewing gum, it is also subtly added to many of our favourite foods such as muesli bars, yogurt and breakfast cereals.
While one article is not enough to cover all facets of artificial sweeteners, in the following article, I aim to shed light on the pros and cons of artificial sweeteners, specific to those of us trying to control our weight.
What are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes used to sweeten food using few kilojoules. They come in different forms such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose.
Artificial sweeteners can be used in tiny amounts compared to sugar because they are significantly sweeter.
Unlike natural sugar which is detected by the body’s sugar receptors in large quantities, artificial sweeteners are able to bind to the receptor in such a way that it causes the same sweet taste in smaller amounts.
Thus, producing an immensely sweet taste in tiny amounts means that artificial sweeteners contain almost no kilojoules. For example, a 375 mL can of Coke contains a whopping 675 Kilojoules while the equivalent amount of a brand name low kilojoule Cola contains only 4 Kilojoules.
Therefore, substituting regular sugar for artificially sweetened alternatives can help individuals lose weight. This is because the lower kilojoule options help to reduce overall energy intake.
Can artificial sweeteners make me gain weight?
Despite this, some studies suggest that over stimulation of the sugar receptors from consuming high amounts of sweeteners may cause foods containing natural sugar to taste less sweet. This can cause us to neglect these nutritious foods, such as fruit, in favour of artificial alternatives.
Although the vitamin and mineral content found in artificial sweeteners does not differ significantly from natural sugar, products containing sweeteners are usually processed and are therefore not as nutritious as natural foods.
Likewise, this effect may cause you to consume higher quantities of natural sugar to experience the same sweet taste which your body has adapted to from the over consumption of artificial sweeteners. This increases your overall kilojoule intake, thereby causing subsequent weight gain.
Choosing the lesser of two evils
Although more research is needed to determine the long term consequences of artificial sweetener consumption, many experts agree that artificial sweeteners are not dangerous in moderation.
While research conducted on the health effects of artificial sweeteners show no strong link between consumption and the development of disease, studies have shown over and over again that there is a clear link between the overconsumption of sugar and diet related diseases such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Thus, if you are trying to lose weight, artificial sweeteners are a safe, short term alternative to sugar loaded products, and may even help to prevent diet related diseases which are linked to overweight and obesity. Despite this, it is always healthier to eat minimally processed, natural produce.
I will leave you with one final thought: although artificial sweeteners have been around for decades, almost two in three Australians aged over 18 are overweight or obese. Perhaps after all we can’t have our cake and eat it too…
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