Are artificial sweeteners causing you to gain weight?
Marsha N. Woolery, Healthy Eating & Diet
Sugar has long been known to cause weight gain if and when consumed in large amounts. But how is this possible? When more sugar than the body needs is taken into the body, the excess is stored as glycogen and fat. Too much fat in the body leads to obesity, which increases the risk of diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, heart disease, infertility and certain types of cancers. It does not matter whether sugar is in the form of sucrose (table sugar - white or brown), honey, high fructose corn syrup or molasses, the end result is the same.
Sugar in all forms also causes an increase in blood sugar and insulin levels which results in more triglycerides (fat in the body), more free radicals (substances that destroy cells) and increased inflammatory markers.
Because of these possible health problems, artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes have become a popular item in many homes, offices, restaurants and food manufacturing plants. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has, so far, approved five artificial sweeteners - Acesulfame Potassium (Sunette/Sweet one), Aspartame (Equal/Nutrasweet), Saccharin (Sweet 'n' Low), Sucralose (Splenda) and Neotame (made by Nutrasweet) and more recently Stevia, as a dietary supplement. All the products are 200 to 8,000 times sweeter than sugar and have an accepted dietary intake level.
Artificial sweeteners were intended to replace sugar or concentrated sweets and thus result in weight loss, but some researchers have found that some persons who use these artificial sweeteners gain weight. How come? Is it possible for an item or substance that has little or no calories to cause weight gain?
Here are some facts
Artificial sweeteners are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, so persons who use them may lose the taste for sweetness even from fruits and vegetables and choose carbohydrate-rich foods that are refined and of a lower nutrient quality, such as white bread, crackers, biscuits and sugar bun, which may lead to weight gain.
High consumption of artificial sweeteners may also cause persons to lose the sensation of sweet taste from naturally sweet and energy- or nutrient-rich foods, which may cause an increase in appetite and lead to the consumption of more food and result in weight gain.
Consumption of artificial sweeteners, along with sugar-containing food or drink, increases the response of taste receptors in the mouth and in the intestines (glucagon-like peptide-1), increases the speed of sugar absorbed in the cells, cause more insulin to be secreted, which increases appetite and blood sugar and results in weight gain.
The ability of the body to adjust to limited energy intake is more difficult in adults than in children; so weight gain is more likely in adults than in children who consume artificial sweeteners. This is because the food intake of an adult is influenced by social interactions and learned behaviour.
Many persons who use artificial sweeteners for weight loss believe the item is a 'magic potion' and tend not to limit their overall food intake, which may result in weight gain.
So what are the recommend-ations for the use of artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners should be used as a transition from 'sugar' to 'no sugar' or less sugar in the diet.
Artificial sweeteners should be used in moderation, based on the acceptable daily intake.
Instead of 'diet' or 'sugar free' drinks and foods, use less or no sugars in preparation.
Substitute fresh or dried fruits for sugar when baking cakes, puddings, custards, etc, making porridge or having dry cereals
Brew fresh tea, chill and drink unsweetened (homemade ice tea)
Add lime, lemon, Seville (sour) orange or whatever fruit juice to water, chill and drink unsweetened (homemade flavoured water)
Let's sweeten up our food the healthy way. The natural way. It's your choice.
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.