Quantcast
Food

Dr. Mark Hyman: Why You Should Ditch Artificial Sweeteners

“I know you’re not big on sugar and frequently tell people to cut down on it,” writes this week’s House Call. “But what about artificial sweeteners? Can I use those instead?”

Sadly, the answer is emphatically no. Human, animal, experimental and other studies show artificial sweeteners can be just as bad and maybe even worse than regular sugar.

Artificial sweeteners have long been positioned as “guilt-free,” innocuous, safe alternatives, so why would I argue they are actually worse than sugar?

Human, animal, experimental and other studies show artificial sweeteners can be just as bad and maybe even worse than regular sugar.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Manufacturers love to position zero-calorie sweetened foods and drinks as better because they create a “halo effect” and they know you’re more likely to buy them.

We’re surrounded by low-calorie or calorie-free foods and diet soft drinks that contain artificial sweeteners touted as healthy or consequence-free. As a result, the number of Americans who consume products that contain sugar-free sweeteners grew from 70 million in 1987 to 160 million in 2000.

At the same time, the incidence of obesity in the U.S. has doubled from 15 percent to 30 percent across all age groups, ethnic groups and social strata. And the number of overweight Americans has increased from about 30 percent to more than 65 percent of the population. The fastest growing obese population is children.

High sugar intake deservedly takes the blame here, but we frequently overlook artificial sweeteners as a potential culprit. The evidence is catching up. Recent studies have not been kind to artificial sweeteners, claiming among other problems they adversely affect gut health and glucose tolerance.

You’re probably wondering, though, how a calorie-free sweetener could make you fat. If you’ve read my blogs, you know that while calories count, other factors like hormonal imbalances contribute far more to weight gain.

Let’s briefly look at three reasons artificial sweeteners create adverse consequences to your waistline and health.

1. Artificial sweeteners increase your risk for diabesity. Studies show sugar substitutes potentially can increase your risk for weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. One study of rats that were fed artificially sweetened food found that their metabolism slowed down and they were triggered to consume more calories and gain more weight than rats fed sugar-sweetened food. In another animal study, rats that consumed artificial sweeteners ate more food, their metabolic fire or thermogenesis slowed down and they put on 14 percent more body fat in just two weeks even if they ate fewer total calories than the rats that ate regular sugar-sweetened food.

2. Artificial sweeteners rewire your brain chemistry and metabolism. How could aspartame and other fake sweeteners make you gain weight even though they’re calorie-free? Because they stimulate your taste buds and trick them to think you’re eating real sugar. Artificial sweeteners can be 1000 times sweeter than sugar, so your body becomes confused and revs up production of insulin, your fat-storage hormone. Your metabolism slows down, you become hungry more quickly, you’re prone to eat way more food (especially carbs) and increased belly fat is the inevitable result. Because they confuse and slow down your metabolism, you burn fewer calories every day. Artificial sweeteners make you hungrier and cause you to crave even more sugar and starchy carbs, such as bread and pasta.

3. Artificial sweeteners are highly addictive. I regularly see patients who complain they can’t kick their diet-soda habit. “I have one in the morning and I can’t stop,” they say. It isn’t just their imagination: Artificial sweeteners can quickly become addictive. In an alarming study, rats offered the choice of cocaine or artificial sweeteners always picked the artificial sweetener, even if the rats were previously programmed to be cocaine addicts. The author of the study said that, “The absolute preference for taste sweetness may lead to a re-ordering in the hierarchy of potentially addictive stimuli, with sweetened diets … taking precedence over cocaine and possibly other drugs of abuse.”

 

Let’s consider that last point a little more closely, particularly with diet sodas, which account for a fair amount of the artificial sweeteners we consume.

One of the biggest struggles I see with patients—ironically, usually overweight or obese patients—is surrendering their diet sodas. Like artificial sweeteners, we’ve been misled to think they’re guilt-free alternatives to regular soda.

Hardly. Diet soda and diet drinks make you fat and cause type 2 diabetes.

Wait … diet soda makes people fat? Really? How does that happen?

Read page 1

If losing weight were all about the calories, then consuming diet drinks would seem like a good idea. That’s certainly what big-name cola companies want us to believe, judging by the ad campaigns highlighting their efforts to fight obesity. (And the other food giants making diet drinks push the same propaganda).

Soda companies proudly promote the fact that it has 180 low- or no-calorie drinks and that it has cut sales of sugared drinks in schools by 90 percent. Is that a good thing? I don’t think so. In fact, it may be worse to drink diet soda than a regular soda.

A 14-year study of 66,118 women published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (and supported by many previous and subsequent studies) discovered some frightening facts that should make us all swear off diet drinks and products:

Diet sodas raised the risk of diabetes more than sugar-sweetened sodas.

Women who drank one 12-ounce diet soda a week had a 33 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes and women who drank one 20-ounce soda a week had a 66 percent increased risk.

Women who drank diet sodas drank twice as much as those who drank sugar-sweetened sodas because artificial sweeteners are more addictive than regular sugar. The average diet soda drinker consumes three diet drinks a day.

The bottom line is you can’t outsmart Mother Nature. Fooling your brain into thinking you are getting something sweet plays dirty tricks on your metabolism. Artificial sweeteners disrupt the normal hormonal and neurological signals that control hunger and satiety (feeling full).

The use of artificial sweeteners, as well as “food porn,” the sexy experience of sweet, fat and salt in your mouth, alters your food preferences. Your palate shifts from being able to enjoy fruits and vegetables and whole foods to liking only the sexy stuff.

Sugar or Artificial Sweeteners: What’s the Answer?

Let’s be clear here that I am not letting sugar off the hook. Of the more than 600,000 food products—note I said food products, not foods—80 percent have added sugar. That’s where the trouble begins.

We went from eating about 10 pounds of sugar per person, per year in 1800 to 152 pounds of sugar (and 146 pounds of flour) per person, per year today. Think about it: On average we eat about one pound of sugar every day!

Those sugar-laden foods literally become drugs: Pharmacological doses that hijack our metabolism and make us fat and sick.

Adding a teaspoon of sugar to your coffee or having an occasional dessert doesn’t make you fat and sick. Added sugars in even so-called healthy foods or non-sweet tasting foods creates the real, cumulative damage.

I realize this can all become confusing. Here are five ways I recommend making sense about sweeteners:

1. Have a little. If you like sugar and want a little bit, fine, but eat real food and then have sweet things. Consider sugar a recreational drug that you can partake of in moderation like red wine or tequila. Put a little sugar in your coffee because at least you’re aware about how much you’re getting. Likewise, you’re not going to overeat cake, because you know it’s bad for you. One caveat: If you know a little sugar will become a slippery slope for overeating, stay away from the sweet stuff period.

2. Become aware of hidden sugars even in so-called healthy foods. Read ingredients and realize sugar lurks even in foods that don’t taste sweet or that are positioned as healthy.

3. Learn to appreciate natural sweetness. Fruit, nuts and other real foods contain natural sweetness without processed foods’ sugar overload or the detrimental effects of artificial sweeteners.

4. Stop confusing your body. If you have a desire for something sweet have a little sugar, but stay away from “fake” foods. Eating a whole-foods diet that has a low-glycemic load and is rich in phytonutrients and indulging in a few real sweet treats once in a while is a better alternative than tricking your body with artificial sweeteners, which leads to wide scale metabolic rebellion and obesity.

5. Judiciously use this one sweetener. Among sweeteners, I make one exception with stevia. A little bit in your coffee or tea should be fine, but be judicious. Besides, overdoing stevia creates a bitter effect, so you’re more likely not to get carried away. If you partake, make sure you’re buying 100 percent pure organic stevia, not the stuff that contains bulking agents like maltodextrin (corn) and nebulous natural flavors.

If you really want to break free from the addictive grip of artificial sweeteners and sugar, as well as food sensitivities, I highly recommend doing The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet. I’ve witnessed patients curb their worst sugar and artificial sweetener cravings and learn to appreciate the natural sweetness of real, whole foods in just 10 days.

Whatever you do, stay away from artificial sweeteners. I recommend giving up aspartame, sucralose, sugar alcohols such as xylitol and maltitol and all of the other heavily used and marketed sweeteners unless you want to slow down your metabolism, gain weight and become an addict. Use a little stevia if you must, but skip out on the others.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

How Probiotics Can Help You Lose Weight

3 Omega-3 Fatty Acids That Should Be Part of Your Diet

18 Most Addictive Foods

What Is Teff and How Do You Use This Ancient Grain?

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Freight Farms

Why This Montana Farmer Grows Food Year-Round in Shipping Containers

By Isabelle Morrison

Kim Curren, owner of Shaggy Bear Farm in Bozeman, Montana, has worn many hats. She worked in the solar power industry for 15 years, owned her own café bookstore and worked a stint as a medical case manager. In 2016, Curren decided to try her hand at farming, because why not?

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Sam Murphy

Got Nondairy Alternative Milk?

By Sam Schipani

More and more, ecologically minded milk consumers are turning to nondairy products to minimize their carbon hoofprints. Sales of almond milk shot up by 250 percent between 2011 and 2016. Meanwhile, consumption of dairy milk has plummeted 37 percent since the 1970s, according to the USDA.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
A burger made with a blend of beef and mushrooms. Mushroom Council

'Blended Burger' Allows a Simple Shift to More Sustainable Eating

By Richard Waite, Daniel Vennard and Gerard Pozzi

Burgers are possibly the most ubiquitous meal on Americans' dinner plates, but they're also among the most resource-intensive: Beef accounts for nearly half of the land use and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the food Americans eat.

Although there's growing interest in plant-based burgers and other alternatives, for the millions of people who still want to order beef, there's a better burger out there: a beef-mushroom blend that maintains, or even enhances, that meaty flavor with significantly less environmental impact.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Old White Truck / Flickr

The Last Straw? EU Official Hints Ban on Single-Use Plastic Across Europe

A top EU official hinted that legislation to cut plastic waste in Europe is coming soon.

Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission, made the comment after Britain's environment minister Michael Gove, a pro-Brexiter, suggested that staying in the EU would make it harder for the UK to create environmental laws such as banning plastic drinking straws.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
Flare from gas well. Ken Doerr / Flickr

Court Orders Trump Administration to Enforce Obama-Era Methane Rule

A federal judge reinstated a widely supported methane waste rule that President Trump's administration has repeatedly tried to stop.

Judge William Orrick of the U.S. District Court for Northern California ruled Thursday that Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) decision to suspend core provisions of the 2016 Methane and Waste Prevention Rule was "untethered to evidence."

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
On Jan. 24, 2017 President Donald Trump signed a memorandum to expedite the Keystone XL permitting process. Twitter | Donald Trump

Inside the Trump Admin's Fight to Keep the Keystone XL Approval Process Secret

By Steve Horn

At a Feb. 21 hearing, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the Trump administration must either fork over documents showing how the U.S. Department of State reversed an earlier decision and ultimately came to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, or else provide a substantial legal reason for continuing to withhold them. The federal government has an order to deliver the goods, one way or the other, by March 21.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health

New Black Lung Epidemic Emerging in Coal Country

In a study released this month by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), federal researchers identified more than 400 cases of complicated black lung in three clinics in southwestern Virginia between 2013 and 2017—the largest cluster ever reported.

However, the actual number of cases is likely much, much higher as the government analysis relied on self-reporting. An ongoing investigation from NPR has counted nearly 2,000 cases diagnosed since 2010 across Appalachia.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Dennis Schroeder / NREL

The Facts About Trump’s Solar Tariffs – Who Gets Hurt? Who Gets Helped?

By John Rogers

The solar-related shoe we've been expecting has finally dropped: President Trump recently announced new taxes on imported solar cells and modules. There's plenty of downside to his decision, in terms of solar progress, momentum and jobs. But will it revive U.S. manufacturing?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!