Artificial sweeteners – good or bad news for our sweet tooth?
Artificial sweeteners do not activate the food reward pathways the same way that natural sweeteners do. Foods or drinks sweetened with artificial sweeteners may contribute fewer calories to our diet (*ahem* Coke Zero), but they may result in overeating as a result. In simple terms, artificially sweetened foods prepare our bodies for calories from their sweet flavour, but because the body isn’t “rewarded” in the same way as it is normally, our appetites may persist. When our food reward system is only partially satisfied, we’re hardwired to seek out more calories later on. We may then have a strong desire to satisfy the craving for sweetness, even in the absence of real energy need.
Artificial sweeteners basically trick your body into thinking that it is going to receive sugar (calories), but when the sugar doesn’t come, your body continues to signal that it needs more. Our bodies are normally satisfied through post-absorptive feedback, and these sweeteners don’t provide that because the body doesn’t process them (hence they provide zero calories).
It is recommended by many health organizations that decreasing sugar consumption is good for glycemic control, and therefore, many people are turning to artificial sweeteners or other sugar substitutes to reduce the sugar and calories in their diets. Artificially sweetened beverages offer them the sweet flavour they desire without the calories or spikes in blood glucose levels. However, while caloric intake may be reduced, our bodies may experience metabolic disturbances, especially if we start snacking or eating at irregular times as a compensatory mechanism. This subsequent snacking also negates the calories that we “saved” by eating artificially sweetened foods earlier.
When it comes to artificially sweetened beverages, as few as one of these drinks per day may be enough to significantly increase the risk for a number of health problems. Evidence from the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association states that people who frequently consume sugar substitutes may be at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease.
What’s the bottom line? Consider enjoying sweet foods in moderation and limiting, rather than eliminating, your “real” sugar consumption. Once the reduction in sugar intake becomes a habit, you will do just fine without any of these sugar substitutes!