You probably know the negative health effects of eating too much sugar, especially “added sugars” like in soft drinks, lollies, baked goods, breakfast cereals just to name a few. Added sugar is hiding just about everywhere in the supermarket.
Ingesting refined sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin, and increases your risk for a whole host of issues.
Back in the good old days, one of the food industry’s responses to the demand for lower-calorie foods that still taste great, was artificial sweeteners.
The idea behind them is that you can still get the sweetness, without the calories by having a “diet drink” versus a regular one. Theoretically, this was going to help people maintain a healthy body weight, and hopefully not increase anyone’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.
But, sometimes things don’t always work out the way we think it will…today we’ll look at the truth behind artificial sweeteners.
Types of artificial sweeteners
Sugar substitutes fall into several categories, but what they all have in common is that they have a sweet taste and fewer calories than plain sugar.
Today we’ll specifically discuss “artificial sweeteners,” which are synthetic chemicals where a tiny bit tastes very sweet.
They’re also known as “non-nutritive sweeteners,” and include things like:
- Saccharin (Used in “low sugar tomato sauces”),
- Acesulfame potassium,
- Aspartame (Equal & NutraSweet), and
- Sucralose (Splenda).
Health effects of artificial sweeteners
Negative health effects from artificial sweeteners are cited all over the place, and while many studies show effects, others don’t.
Cancer? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Heart disease? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Not to mention that much of the research has been on animals, which may or may not translate to people.
I did want to point out one ironic thing, to do with artificial sweeteners and weight….
One study found that people who tend to drink diet soft drink have double the risk of gaining weight than those who didn’t.
Another study has shown an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.
While these results don’t apply equally to everyone, they do somehow seem ironic, don’t they?
Artificial sweeteners have also been recognised as triggering headaches, mood swings and gut problems, mostly due to upsetting the balance of good gut bacteria.
How do artificial sweeteners affect our bodies?
Now that’s a million-dollar question!
There are so many theories out there, but the reality is, we don’t know for sure, AND they have different effects on different people.
- Is it because people feel that they can eat more cake because they’ve switched to diet soft drink?
- Perhaps it’s because the sweeteners change the taste preferences so that fruit starts to taste not sweet enough and worse, veggies taste bitter?
- Maybe artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for more (real) sweets?
- It can be that the sweet taste of these sweeteners signals to our body to release insulin to lower our blood sugar; but, because we didn’t actually ingest sugar, our blood sugar levels get too low, to the point where we get sugar cravings.
- Some even say (and at least one animal study suggests) that saccharin may inspire addictive tendencies toward it.
- Maybe there is even a more complex response that involves our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels.
Foods to watch out for:
Artificial sweeteners are hiding out in so many processed foods and drinks that of course claim to be “healthy” because they have no added sugar, right?!?
As always, read the ingredients so you know exactly what is in a product. If it sounds like read food, go for it. if it sounds like a chemical shiz storm…it is!
Foods where artificial sweeteners are hiding out…
“No added sugar” products like baked beans, tomato sauce, soups, marinades
“Diet products” – yoghurts, ice creams, soft drinks
Don’t even get me started on those rubbish meal replacement shakes…yep I’m calling out Isagenix, Juice Plus, Herballife they are all full of rubbish!
Understand that added sugar is not good for you, but the solution is not to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners.
I highly recommend reducing your sugar intake, so you naturally re-train your palate and start enjoying the taste of real food that isn’t overly sweet.
This way you’re reducing your intake of added sugar, as well as not needing to replace it with artificial sweeteners.
Here are some easy ways to reduce your added sugar:
- Having ½ teaspoon less of sugar in your hot morning drink.
- When baking reduce the sugar in the recipe by ¼ cup.
- If you drink juice, make sure it’s mostly veggies with only one piece of fruit or dilute juice with water.
Your body will thank you!
Sweet Enough Matcha Latte
1 teaspoon matcha powder
1.5 cup almond milk, unsweetened
1-2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey (optional)
1. Heat almond milk and maple syrup/honey (if using) in a small pot.
2. Add matcha powder to cup.
3. When almond milk is hot, add about a ¼ cup to matcha and stir to combine.
4. Add rest of the milk to cup.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can steep a chai tea bag in the milk if you prefer chai tea over matcha.