You probably already know the negative effects on your health when you eat too much sugar, especially “added sugars” like in soft drinks, lollies, baked goods, and many commercially-available cereals, just to name a few. There is added sugar hiding just about everywhere in the grocery store and we don’t even know it.
Yes, when you digest refined sugar your blood sugar and insulin spikes, and this increases your risk for a whole host of issues.
Some time ago, one of the food industry’s responses to the demand for lower-calorie foods that still taste great, was artificial sweeteners.
The thinking behind them is that you can still get the sweetness, without the large amount of calories; like when you have a “diet soft drink” versus a regular one. Theoretically, this was meant to help people maintain a healthy body weight, and hopefully not increase anyone’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.
But, as we know, things don’t always work out the way we think they are going to…
Types of artificial sweeteners
There are several different categories sugar substitutes fall into, but one thing that they do all have in common is that they all have a sweet taste and fewer calories that plain sugar.
Today we’ll specifically discuss “artificial sweeteners,” which are synthetic chemicals where it only takes a small amount of it to make things taste very sweet.
They’re also known as “non-nutritive sweeteners,” and include things like:
- Saccharin (Sweet & Low),
- Acesulfame potassium,
- Aspartame (Equal & NutraSweet), and
- Sucralose (Splenda).
Health effects of artificial sweeteners
Negative health effects from artificial sweeteners are reported all over the place, and while many studies show effects, others don’t. Cancer causing? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Heart disease? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Not to mention that much of the research has been undertaken 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 drinks have double the risk of gaining weight than those who didn’t.
Another study showed an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.
While I’m sure these results don’t apply equally to everyone, they do seem pretty ironic, don’t ya think?
How do artificial sweeteners affect our bodies?
Now that’s a million-dollar question!
There are so many ideas out there to try to explain it, but the reality is we don’t really know for sure; plus, everyone is different and it might play out differently in different people.
- Is it because people feel that they can eat cake or fast food because they’ve switched to diet soft drink?
- Maybe it’s because the sweeteners change our taste preferences so that fruit starts to taste different and less sweet, and veggies taste terrible?
- Perhaps artificial sweeteners actually 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 animal studies actually suggest 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.
Understand that added sugar is really no good for you, but the solution to reducing your intake may not be to replace them all 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. The great thing about this is that you’re reducing your intake of added sugar, without needing to replace it with artificial sweeteners.
Try having ½ teaspoon less of sugar in your morning coffee. Try reducing a ¼ cup of the sugar called for in some recipes. Try diluting juice with water.
All it takes is a little reduction at a time and before you know it you will have cut added sugars right out of your diet.
Your body will thank you for it!
Recipe (naturally sweetened): Sweet Enough Matcha Latte
1 teaspoon matcha powder
1.5 cup almond milk, unsweetened
1-2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey (optional)
- Heat almond milk and maple syrup/honey (if using) in a small pot.
- Add matcha powder to cup.
- When almond milk is hot, add about a ¼ cup to matcha and stir to combine.
- 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.