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 ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Popular
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, seen here speaking to the press about the Flint water crisis in 2016, will be the highest ranking official to stand trial over the public health disaster. Brett Carlsen / Getty Images

Judge Orders Michigan Health Director to Face Trial Over Flint Water Crisis Deaths

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon will be the highest ranking official to go to trial so far as a result of an investigation into the Flint water crisis, The Associated Press reported Monday.

Judge David Goggins ruled Monday there was probable cause for Lyon to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Robert Skidmore and John Snyder that prosecutors say were due to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that Lyon was aware of a year before he alerted Michigan's governor, Michigan Live reported. Lyons is also charged with misconduct in office.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Coal-fired power plant near Becker, Minnesota. Tony Webster / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Trump's 'Dirty Power Plan' Could Cost More Than 1,000 Lives a Year

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled on Tuesday its long-anticipated replacement of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. The new coal pollution rules will increase planet-warming carbon pollution and could cost more than a thousand American lives each year, according to the EPA's own estimates.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler released the "Affordable Clean Energy Rule" today under President Trump's directive. The new plan encourages efficiency improvements at existing coal plants to ensure they operate longer and allows states to weaken, or even eliminate, coal emissions standards. That's a clear difference from former President Obama's plan, which was aimed at phasing out coal and transitioning to cleaner power sources to avoid dangerous climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Two workers in protective gear scrape asbestos tile and mastic from a facility at Naval Base Point Loma in California. NAVFAC / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Why Asbestos Is Still a Major Public Health Threat in the U.S.

Reports surfaced this month that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had proposed a significant new use rule (SNUR) for asbestos in June, requiring anyone who wanted to start or resume importing or manufacturing the carcinogenic mineral to first receive EPA approval.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Rklfoto / Getty Images

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Wants to End EPA’s Cruel Animal Testing

By Justin Goodman and Nathan Herschler

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress recently pressed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its "questionable" and "dubious" animal tests. The lawmakers' demand for information on "horrific and inhumane" animal testing at the EPA comes on the heels of a recent Johns Hopkins University study that found that high-tech computer models are more effective than animal tests.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Wikimedia Commons

Strongest, Oldest Arctic Sea Ice Breaks Up for First Time on Record

The Arctic is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the globe, and now the region's thickest and oldest sea ice—also known as "the last ice area"—is breaking up for the first time on record, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

The breakage has opened up waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen-solid even in the peak of summer.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Climate Justice Edmonton

These Giant Portraits Will Stand in the Path of Trans Mountain Pipeline

By Andrea Germanos

To put forth a "hopeful vision for the future" that includes bold climate action, a new installation project is to be erected along the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route to harnesses art's ability to be a force for social change and highlight the fossil fuel project's increased threats to indigenous rights and a safe climate.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
A worker inspects recycled plastic in a plastics factory. Getty Images

The Plastic Waste Crisis Is an Opportunity to Get Serious About Recycling

By Kate O'Neill

A global plastic waste crisis is building, with major implications for health and the environment. Under its so-called "National Sword" policy, China has sharply reduced imports of foreign scrap materials. As a result, piles of plastic waste are building up in ports and recycling facilities across the U.S.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Aaron Teasdale

The One Thing Better Than Summer Skiing

By Aaron Teasdale

"There's snow up here, I promise," I assure my son Jonah, as we grunt up a south-facing mountainside in Glacier National Park in July. A mountain goat cocks its head as if to say, "What kind of crazy people hike up bare mountains in ski boots?" He's not the only one to wonder what in the name of Bode Miller we're doing up here with ski gear.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

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