Artificial sweeteners might seems like a perfect alternative to sugar – but are they all that good for you? It’s possible that those pretend-sugars are having a negative impact on your brain and body.
Sugar is prolific and almost inescapable in the world today. People are consuming sugar in a variety of forms, and often without even realising it, to the point where a standard diets daily caloric intake from sugar is totally blown out.
Many people turn to artificial sweeteners in an effort to cut down on sugar. The common perception is that this can be a clean swap and the consequences stop there. However, it is also important to realise that these sweeteners can also have impacts on your body that you may not have considered.
While not yet scientifically proven, many people (including the American Migraine Association) claim a connection between noncaloric sweeteners and headaches – in particular aspartame. If you feel as though sweeteners may be triggering headaches, try keeping a food diary to see if you can pinpoint what foods (and their possible sweeteners) may be at the root.
Some sweeteners are known to have a laxative effect when consumed, but can also cause, stomach pains, gas and bloating in some people. Sweeteners like malitol, xylitol and sorbitol can be a potential source of such symptoms.
Check labels on things like sugar-free mints, or chewing gum for ingredients like these, if you are experiencing digestive problems.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but sweeteners can sometimes be responsible for a gain in weight.
There are two factors involved in this: the first is biological. Artificial sweeteners tend to be super-sweet and can confuse the metabolic response of the human body and condition it to stop releasing hormones involved in the metabolic process. The normal metabolic reaction is then interrupted and, if caloric foods are consumed later, it may lead to a weak metabolic response and potential weight gain.
The second is behavioural. Use of sweeteners could lead to ‘excuse-eating’ – ‘if I get have a sweetener in my coffee, then I can get the chips’ – thereby negating the use of the sweetener in the first place.
There has also been research conducted recently around whether sweeteners might possibly inhibit the functioning of healthy gut bacteria, impacting the metabolism and the rest of the body as a consequence.
Some sweeteners are substantially sweeter than sugar. Overuse of sweeteners could lead to your palate becoming used to super-sweet foods. This could lead to extreme sugar cravings, which could lead to increased calorie intake later.
For people who are diabetic, or are trying to manage blood-sugar levels, sweeteners are invaluable. There are also many people who regularly consume sweeteners in their diet who remain unaffected.
Artificial sweeteners may be a great option (in moderation), but we should all be aware of potential consequences of over-use.