Not So Sweet? The Truth About Artificial Sweeteners

Do you love splenda in your morning coffee? Low-cal yogurt for breakfast? Sugar free pudding for a snack? Diet soda with lunch? In theory, substituting a no-calorie alternative for sugar is the healthier way to go, right? Umm, not so fast.

Consider the facts. The use of artificial sweeteners is on the rise, but Americans are still getting heavier.  What’s more, sugar substitutes may actually increase cravings and appetite . . . AND have potentially dangerous side effects.

Our clients know we’re against artificially sweetened anything. Here are some top reasons they are ineffective for weight control:

  • Using sugar substitutes keeps the taste of sugar “alive” in your system. While you are not actually eating sugar, it tastes like sugar to your body. Studies have shown this can actually increase your cravings for sugar and sweets. When we eat refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, our brains believe that we’re getting nutrients we need. Instead, we don’t get any real nutrients, so appetite and food cravings are re-triggeredOur bodies aren’t looking for more sweetness necessarily—they’re looking for real food!
  • Sugar free foods can be addicting. Research shows that artificial sweeteners affect the same parts of the brain that deal with addiction. Cocaine-addicted rats choose saccharin-sweetened water above and beyond cocaine-doses, even when the researchers upped the drug levels! The body then builds up a tolerance, another sign of addiction. As the sweet receptors in the esophagus and stomach become “tricked” by the zero-calorie sugar substitute, you crave more food and become susceptible to addictive eating habits like binging or overeating.
  • Eating sugar-free foods doesn’t negate the effects of other foods. How often have you ordered a diet soda, for instance, only to indulge in a rich dessert? Or have your morning latte with artificial sweetener . . . and a sugar-laden pastry?
  • Sugar free does not mean healthy. Diet drinks, puddings, cakes, cookies, coffee drinks, gelatin, and frozen yogurt are popular sugar-free foods, but have no real nutritional value. They often give a false sense of “nutritious.”
  • Artificial sweeteners change taste perception. Because they are much sweeter than natural sugars (such as those found in vegetables and fruits), sugar subs can actually reset your taste buds. This doesn’t allow your body to ever adjust to the taste of less sugar and appreciate natural foods that are less sweet.

Aside from weight and addiction issues, artificial sweeteners also have known health implications.

  • Diabetes: As the sweet receptors in your esophagus and stomach are “tricked” by the zero-calorie substitutes, your pancreas is tricked into sending a false spike of insulin that can lead to insulin resistance (precursor for diabetes). Also, since artificial sweeteners cause your body to crave more food, you can put on weight, which further increases your risk for diabetes. In addition, artificial sweeteners may be contributing to a nationwide epidemic of metabolic syndrome, which includes diabetes-inducing insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and too much fat around the waistline.
  • Interference with gut flora: Your gut flora houses at least 70% of your immune system, and also dictates how the majority of your serotonin (and ultimately your fat loss hormones) will be produced and regulated. Gut flora also affects your hormones, metabolism, brain chemistry, and more. Research indicates that eating 5 tsp of Splenda per day has considerable damage to gut flora over time. Very recent studies are finding questionable effects. Looks like it’s a potential problem with other sugar substitutes as well.
  • Aspartame can cause multiple side effects, including gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive and endocrine impairment. The cluster of health issues has its own name–aspartame disease.
  • Read what we have to say on another new favorite, stevia.

So, what’s a concerned sugar lover to do?
Take a close look at your eating patterns and ask yourself:

  • Do you eat or drink diet foods and constantly crave sugar?
  • Do you feel you can’t live without your daily fix of sugar substitute?

If you answer “yes” to these questions, consider eliminating sugar substitutes and letting your taste buds adjust to foods that aren’t as sweet. You will be doing your weight (and health) a huge favor.

Personally, we both use a little bit of the real thing when we like something to be lightly sweetened. A drizzle of raw honey in our tea, a pinch of maple syrup in homemade granola (mostly ‘sweetened’ with fresh fruit and slivered nuts). Believe us, we are not special! Our taste buds have simply adjusted over time, and yours can too. So give your body a break. Take a week or two where you ban sugar substitutes from your diet. See how you do and let us know!

stephanie goodman and jane schwartz


Jane and Stephanie, creators of The Simply Nourished Solution™, are nutritionists who help women over 50 go from overweight, frustrated, and inflamed to lighter and healthier so they can be more active, feel good in their bodies, and live the second half of life with energy and confidence. Their 3-pronged approach, which can fit into any lifestyle, encompasses not only wholesome energizing foods but powerful habit and mindset shifts.


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