Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but when the article, “Artificial Sweeteners Linked to Weight Gain” came across my desk, I was curious. Immediately I wanted to run to my computer and let all of you know what the article said. But I thought, one article doesn’t mean that much, let’s look a bit deeper. And let me tell you, what I found in my research on this subject scared the heck out of me!
Let’s start from the beginning. I could bore you with the research and endless amounts of studies citing each of the artificial sweeteners I researched, instead let me first give you a list of the most common.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
I guess the best way to start this all off is to give you a quick and dirty understanding of how the body responds to sugar, how the body responds to artificial sweeteners, and then give you the down and dirty FACTS on what the dangers are of each artificial sweetener listed above.
Let me first say I am not some organic, grow your own food extremist. Equally, I am concerned about the short and long term effects of the food and drink I put in my body. I haven’t spent all these years working out to keep myself healthy, only to destroy myself from the inside out.
During prehistoric times sugar came solely from complex natural sources that had other nutritional qualities, such as fruit, honey, bark, and leaves. And as we all know naturally sweet food is seasonal, ripening with the help of the sun only during certain times of year.
As time and technology progressed, shipping and trade routes also grew. As did new refining technology, along with advanced food-processing techniques; thus we found ourselves with readily available sugar. We have now created an environment where sugar is everywhere and in everything. Unfortunately sugar is an empty calorie, devoid of protein, fat or fiber, often taking the place of real nutrients.
Sugar and the Body
Remember we are still very primitive, from a cellular level, such that we are all biologically predisposed to desire sugar. Sugar has not only a biochemical effect on the body, but also a psychological one. I dare say most of us desire to have a sweet treat at least once in a while. In fact, with the help of the media and some home/childhood experiences, most of us unconsciously associate sugar with love, pleasure, and reward.
From a biological perspective we seek out sugar to fuel our muscles and brains. After all, sugar (sucrose) is a carbohydrate that metabolizes directly into glucose (blood sugar), stimulating the release of the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin. In fact scientists report that eating chocolate initiates a brain response similar to falling in love.
When you eat sugar, your blood sugar levels shoot up causing the release of insulin from the pancreas, which facilitates the absorption of sugar and other nutrients into the cells of your body. If there are no other nutrients to help you sustain your blood sugar – you crash – your blood sugar level drops as quickly as it rose and you’re looking for another “rush”. This is why it is so important to have a protein, carbohydrate, and fat source at each meal; it helps moderate your blood sugar levels and allows for sustained energy. Eating in this fashion also allows the body to feel genuinely satisfied and release the satiety hormone leptin (which tells the body to stop eating). Be clear, craving sugar is just the body calling for energy and a serotonin surge. It’s the food choices we make that make the difference.
Artificial Sweeteners and the Body
First let me give you the response the body has to artificial sweeteners in general and then give the DIRTY FACTS on how artificial sweeteners affect the body.
Recent research has found that obesity has consistently paralleled the increased use of artificial sweeteners. The more manufacturers use and we consume, the higher our country’s obesity rates seem to go.
As you just learned, typically when the body receives what it perceives as sugar, there is a release of insulin to assist cells in absorbing the nutrients in the blood stream. When artificial sweeteners are consumed, they have been shown to blunt the affect of the body’s ability to recognize sugar in the blood stream. What that basically means is that when you consume artificial sweeteners it blunts or lowers your body’s ability to recognize sugar, thus leading to an increase in the amount of calories consumed. In fact researchers found “that consuming food sweetened with no-calorie saccharin can lead to greater body weight gain and adiposity than would consuming the same food sweetened with a higher-calorie sugar”. Further they noted that based on the lab’s hypothesis, other artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and acesulfame K, could have similar effects. In another study, people who used artificial sweeteners ate up to 3 times the amount of calories as the control group. Plain and simple, artificial sweeteners confuse the body’s natural ability to know when it’s had enough calories (food or drink).
With High Fructose Corn Syrup, the effects are even more pronounced. It seems that fructose is actually “shunted” (pushed) towards the liver, unlike sucrose (regular sugar) which is broken down in the body, prior to reaching the liver. And once reaching the liver fructose mimics the effects of insulin in getting the liver to release fatty acids into the blood stream. Thus it appears that fructose causes the liver to release triglycerides. Triglycerides are a common fat in your blood that is often used for energy. In normal amounts, triglycerides are important to good health. But high triglyceride levels are part of a group of conditions called Metabolic Syndrome.
Metabolic Syndrome is the combination of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, too much fat around the waist, low LDL (good) cholesterol, and high triglycerides. This syndrome will increase your risk of heart disease as well as for diabetes and stroke.
Hence, fructose itself may lead to the increased rates of obesity, not merely through increased calorie intake, but through a variety of complex chemical reactions it stimulates in the human body.
Now here’s the interesting thing. If the liver is bombarded with insulin too often, and this is based on each person’s tolerance level, it begins to become less responsive to insulin being present in the blood stream. When the liver is less responsive to insulin in the blood stream you can become insulin resistant – which can be a precursor to you getting diabetes, and you don’t want that!
So there you have it. Artificial sweeteners, sometimes called body toxins, confuse the body into potentially eating a significant amount of excess calories than it actually needs. While HFCS through a host of complex chemical reactions actually can create an environment for obesity and possible diabetes.
Now here are the most significant findings on the list I promised from above.
- Presently studies show limited or sufficient evidence of carcinogencity in humans
- Possibly blunts the ability to recognize sugar in blood stream
- Possible allergic reactions headaches, breathing difficulty, skin eruptions, diarrhea
- Does seem to cause fewer problems than Aspartame
- Pre-approval research showed sucralose caused shrunken thymus glands (up to 40% shrinkage) and enlarged liver and kidneys.
- Discovered 1976 while seeking to make new pesticide formulation
- Possible allergic reactions skin rashes, panic-like agitation, dizziness and numbness, intestinal cramping, headaches, muscle aches.
- Not a “natural” product (see the Splenda website)
- Contains chlorine which is considered a carcinogen.
Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, Sugar Twin)
- Has received the most complaints of any artificial sweetener
- Use can result in accumulation of formaldehyde in the brain, which can damage your central nervous system and immune system.
- Linked to neuropsychiatric disorders, including panic attacks, mood changes, manic episodes, visual hallucinations
- Mild link to depression and male infertility
- FDA approved though dangerous side effects found in rodents. Same side effects now being found in humans 15 years later.
- Known as sweet herb
- Has been used for over 400 years without ill effects
- Reports from other countries show little or no side effects
I could not close this article without sharing with you the dangers of artificial sweeteners and acknowledging that there still needs to be long term studies on humans to be able to say without a doubt -- artificial sweeteners are a danger to humans. What I will ask you to consider the Tobacco Industry and its stand on cigarettes – supposedly no link between smoking and cancer, and the new knowledge on the dangers of heating your food in plastic – which we originally thought was safe.
I encourage you to build your meals and snacks from whole foods whenever possible and avoid highly processed foods. If you have to sweeten food, do so sparingly with natural sugars such as honey, rice syrup, molasses, and maple syrup.
And if you would like my help on how to avoid artificial sweeteners and highly processed foods or to get your nutrition on track please visit my website now at http://www.energyfxfitness.com
. I look forward to assisting you in being your healthiest and best.
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