Sugar is a big problem. So much so that many countries now add taxes to sugary products to try and discourage people from buying them. Unfortunately, for people with a sweet tooth, sugar is also enjoyable, so the recommended advice from many health organizations is to replace added sugar with artificial sweeteners. However, adding sweeteners is not without its problems, and research is beginning to suggest that they may be making the problem worse.
Artificial Sweeteners Change How the Body Reacts to Other Foods
In much the same way that people develop a tolerance for spicy food over time, sweeteners can do the same. The more you consume, the more your body gets used to the sweet taste, leaving other foods tasting bland and unappetizing. The result is a knock-on effect, where you consume more sweetened and sugary foods and less healthy foods such as whole-grains, fruit, and vegetables.
The positive is that this situation can reverse. It can sometimes only take a matter of weeks away from high-sugar foods to break the association. Not only is this good for your health, but it’s also great for your palate. It doesn’t take long before you begin to notice flavors in foods that you never knew were there!
Artificial Sweeteners Don’t Make You Feel Full
Sugar is high in calories, whereas artificial sweeteners are devoid of nutritional content. As such, sweeteners do not break down or absorb into your body, preventing you from feeling full. With the expectation of a sweet taste and no calories to go along with it, many people end up over-eating sugary snacks and consume more calories than if they had stuck to sugar in the first place.
The culprit is the hormone dopamine, which acts as a signal to tell you when you have eaten enough. Without the calories in the sweetener, there is no dopamine release, confusing the brain into thinking it is about to receive sustenance. Sugar, on the other hand, does trigger dopamine, making it less likely that you resort to snacks to satisfy your appetite.
Artificial Sweeteners Can Disrupt the Gut Biome
In your stomach and intestines are a collection of bacteria known as your biome that helps break down, digest, and absorb the food you eat. The sweeteners are calorie-free, so they pass straight through your body. However, research suggests that they may affect the type of bacteria that grow in your gut. This disruption can increase blood sugar and fat storage, raising the risk of diabetes and obesity.
How to Cut Back
If you have a sweet tooth, it may seem unreasonable to recommend cutting back on both sugar and sweetener. However, there are plenty of foods available that are high in natural sugars that will help you forget you ever needed refined sugar in your diet! Fruit is the obvious choice, with pineapples, grapes, and mango among the most popular, due to their high natural sugar content. These are also highly nutritious and will leave you feeling full, so they don’t have the same problems associated with added sugars.
While fruit is a good alternative to soda, you can’t so easily add it to your morning cup of coffee! Coffee is naturally bitter, so sugar is usually added to mask the strong taste. If you really can’t tolerate black coffee, then having a flavored variety is an alternative. These grinds are made with oils rather than sugar and give a sweet taste that may satisfy your palate.
There is still a lot of research needed to understand the role artificial sweeteners have in the body. However, there is enough information already available to suggest caution when eating sweetened products. As with most food types, it is a case of moderation rather than emitting something entirely out of your diet. However, the takeaway message should be that if you are happy enough to get by without artificial sweeteners, then you probably should.