Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and calories are too!
Until, of course, the invention of artificial sweeteners. No longer does sweet need to be accompanied by calories. Too good to be true? Yes.
Zero calorie, diet, light… All terms for artificially flavored or sweetened beverages. The most popular non caloric sweeteners being aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose. (The other two Food and Drug Administration approved artificial sweeteners are neotame and saccarhin.) These artificial sweeteners are found heavily in beverages, but also many food products.
The trouble with artificially sweetened beverages is this:
1. Sugar is no longer as sweet. Artificially sweeteners are 600-7,000 times sweeter than regular sugar. When consumed regularly, our palates become used to this higher sweetness profile and all of the sudden 1 teaspoon of regular sugar, or one small cookie, does not taste sweet enough. As our sweet tolerance goes up so does our need to satisfy the sweet craving, leading to over consumption; the same calorie we are trying to avoid by drinking the diet version of the beverage in the first place.
2. We are still hungry. Insulin, leptin and other associated hormones that help control our blood sugar and regulate our hunger and satiety are produced in part due to: our stomach stretching from the presence of food or liquid and from glucose (sugar) levels rising in our blood. If there is no sugar, or calories, to accompany the full stomach, the balance of these hormones is off. Our senses all tell the body there will be sugar (energy) coming its way and to get ready to deal with it, but the sugar never comes. The result is a continuous craving for carbohydrates, to make up for the false alarm. We can end up eating more after the intake of artificially sweetened beverages, and foods, contradicting the purpose of having them in the first place.
3. The overall safety of these chemicals is undetermined. Animal and human studies have shown regular consumption of artificially sweetened products having potential carcinogenic outcomes, may increase risk of atherosclerosis, can negatively impact the gastrointestinal tract; among other unwanted consequences, while other studies have not agreed with this finds and have concluded consumption of these products safe. Exact amounts shown to be harmful are unknown as research is limited due to politics, ethics and multiple environmental variants.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows the use of five specific artificial sweeteners in specific doses that they deem safe for consumption by the average healthy adult based off results of the previously mentioned studies. Regardless of significant scientific evidence proving a health threat, the question you must ask is do you really want to risk it?
Bottom line; it is in your best health interest to wean from all forms of artificially sweetened products.
It is also in your best healthy interest to stay away from consuming sweetened beverages altogether. Learn to love water for its clean, crisp hydration and save sweet drinks for special occasions.
Check out past articles on sugar.
Erin Green and Claire Murphy. Altered processing of sweet taste in the brain of diet soda drinkers. Physiol Behav. Nov 5, 2012; 107(4): 560–567. Published online May 11, 2012.
Qing Yang, Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings. Yale Journal of Biol Med. Jun 2010; 83(2): 101–108. Published online Jun 2010.
Susan S. Schiffman and Kristina I. Rother, Sucralose, A Synthetic Organochlorine Sweetener: Overview of Biological Issues. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. Sep 2013; 16(7): 399–451. Published online Nov 12, 2013.
Morando Soffritti, Fiorella Belpoggi, Davide Degli Esposti, Luca Lambertini, Eva Tibaldi, and Anna Rigano, Research First Experimental Demonstration of the Multipotential Carcinogenic Effects of Aspartame Administered in the Feed to Sprague-Dawley Rats. Environ Health Perspect. Mar 2006; 114(3): 379–385.
Wookju Jang, Nam Ho Jeoung and Kyung-Hyun Cho, Modified Apolipoprotein (apo) A-I by Artificial Sweetener Causes Severe Premature Cellular Senescence and Atherosclerosis with Impairment of Functional and Structural Properties of apoA-I in Lipid-Free and Lipid-Bound State. Mol Cells. May 31, 2011; 31(5): 461–470. Published online Nov 17, 2005.