Artificial sweeteners have snaked their way into our food products since the mid-20th century, most notably with the introduction of Diet Coke. Since then, sweeteners like Saccharin, Aspartame, and Sucralose have been touted as guilt-free, healthy alternatives to sugar.
However, though sugar spurred on the obesity epidemic in the US, these artificial sweeteners are no healthier. In fact, the more they are studied, the more they worry health professionals and nutritionists alike.
In short, if you want to stay healthy, stay away from synthetic sugar substitutes. Read on to learn why they are bad for your health.
Artificial Sweeteners and Gut Health
Your microbiome is controlled by what's passing through your digestive system. Therefore, the idea that artificial sweeteners disrupt your gut health is especially concerning. This disruption can manifest in a multitude of health issues, ranging from hormonal instability to weight gain to diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes
Ironic though it may be, the sugar substitutes that were originally marketed as a good alternative for diabetics are contributing to the rise of type 2 Diabetes. Recent large-scale studies show that synthetic sugar substitutes, specifically Sucralose, increase insulin resistance when digested on a regular basis.
Though the sweetener is not sugar, your gut signals that something sweet is being digested. Therefore, your pancreas produces less insulin, just as it would if your blood glucose increased naturally.
Insulin resistance is most dangerous to Type 2 Diabetics, since they need balanced insulin levels in order to avoid Diabetic shock.
If you don't have Diabetes yet, insulin resistance can cause your body to develop it. The more insulin resistance your body has, the higher your blood glucose levels.
This can also contribute to weight gain and bloating.
Artificial sugar substitutes change the form and density of your gut bacteria. When this happens, you may end up with less good gut bacteria than you need, a condition also known as dysbiosis.
Your digestive system becomes unstable, and it disrupts other functions within your body. This can result in a number of gut disorders including Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and even Celiac Disease.
Artificial Sweeteners and the Brain
Since artificial sweeteners affect hormones as well, they are known to wreak havoc with the brain. Though short-term use of an artificially sweetened product may not affect your brain, you may experience some serious health scares if you consume them on a regular basis.
May Cause Brain Tumors
Perhaps the most serious health scare linked to consuming artificial sweeteners is brain cancer. Cancerous brain tumors are specifically linked to Aspartame in several studies, though there is no clear verdict yet.
When Aspartame was first introduced, a study linked this sweetener to high rates of brain cancer in rats. Fans of synthetic sweeteners argued that this was irrelevant, since the study was not done on people.
However, between the 1970's and the 1990's, the rates of brain cancer increased around the world. This correlated with the increase of Aspartame in common "healthy" food products.
Furthermore, there is evidence that Aspartame may contain properties that cause brain cells to mutate. This makes for a strong link between cancer and the popular sweetener, though the FDA has not yet recognized it as unsafe.
May Reduce Sensitivity to Sweetness
Sucralose may have a disturbing effect on the brain as well. A recent study out of Yale University shows that this synthetic sweetener numbs the brain to sweetness.
A decrease in sweetness sensitivity can cause you to no longer register the taste of anything sweet. Over time, this may cause you to need more sugar or sugar substitute to satisfy your taste buds.
In a way, this defeats the purpose of using sugar substitutes. The goal is to be able to enjoy sweetness with less sugar or synthetic sweetener in the mix.
How to Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
You can't ingest sugar, but you can't live without sweets: What are you to do?
Avoid both cane sugar and artificial sweeteners. Stick to consuming natural sugar substitutes instead. These natural alternatives aren't limited to well-known sweeteners such as honey, agave nectar, and maple syrup.
Monk fruit may be a modern concept in delicious low-cal desserts, but there is nothing new about it. It is a natural alternative to sugar derived from a small melon-like fruit native to china.
Monk fruit, which is recognized as safe by the FDA, is up to 300 times more potent than sugar. It's a zero-calorie substitute. This plant-based sweetener tastes a lot milder than other sugar substitutes, so it can't alter the taste or smell of the sweet treats you know and love.
This safe and sweet alternative is a sugar alcohol. There is nothing artificial about it; in fact, it's a naturally-occurring substance in your body.
Xylitol looks and tastes a lot like sugar. That said, only a tiny fraction of it is needed to rival the sweetness of sugar.
You can enjoy xylital in freshly prepared sweet or savory dishes, or you might find it in products like chewing gum. This alcohol sugar is even used to sweeten dental products.
Want Some Delicious Dinner?
Now that you know the history as well as the health hazards of artificial sweeteners, do you still want them to replace your sugar?
Of course not; it's so much safer to learn how to incorporate natural plant-based sweeteners instead. If you live in the Houston, TX area and you need a hand with healthy meals, consider ordering dinner from The Dinner Dude.
From modern recipes to traditional American favorites, we're here to make healthy, sustainable meals just for you. Take a look at our menu and order your freshly prepared meals today.