It’s a question I get asked often. Are artificial sweeteners bad for you? How do they impact your health and do they cause either weight gain or loss?
As with many of the big health debates, it’s not quite black and white. There are some pros, some cons but really it just comes down to a practical approach in terms of how they fit your lifestyle and to what extent they become a ‘tool’ in your sugar busting toolbox.
I’ll explain the stuff, pitch the yay and nays before offering my own opinion around using the imposter sweet stuff.
What are artificial sweeteners?
Aspartame is of course the artificial sweetener associated with Coke, whilst saccharin and sucralose (aka Splenda) are other common ones found in other products or on coffee shop tables.
Additionally, there are other sweeteners out there which should be mentioned:
- Sugar alcohols occur naturally but can be manufactured for consumption. I discuss one of these Xyltol in another post where it’s used in chocolate.
- Natural sweeteners are from a wholly natural source e.g. honey & maple syrup
- Novel sweeteners e.g. Stevia, are basically where the source is natural but the manufacturing process makes it hard to categorise in that way, so ‘novel’ they have been named.
For the purpose of this post we’ll stick to understanding if just artificial sweeteners are bad for you.
- They have no calories compared to sugar but make things taste nice
- They don’t raise your blood sugar. This is good if you have diabetes but also good if you don’t fancy getting onset diabetes.
- They have been through a thorough and rigorous safety evaluation by regulated authorities.
- According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no credible evidence that they cause cancer
- Some scientific evidence suggests that consuming artificial sweeteners makes your body expect the calories, and you compensate later on thus eating more that you would have in the first place. Only you know if you have a tendency to do this so bear in mind.
- It’s possible artificial sweeteners change the way you taste food. So frequent use may limit your tolerance to other tastes. Fruit may not taste as sweet and some vegetables may become unpalatable i.e. a bit gross
- They are ‘artificial’ and you are putting chemicals into your body that our ancestors didn’t obviously do.
Using artificial sweeteners daily
I think I can just about remember the moment I discovered that a Diet Coke had a single calorie versus the 139 in a normal can. What an awesome no brainer. To a calorie counting queen, this appeared the magic bullet. Similar revelations followed with low calorie hot chocolate and snack pots of five calorie jelly.
Yipee I thought.
Essentially however, I wasn’t addressing the root cause of the problem – the fact I needed that fix, desperately. I would still quite often default to my sugar sinners. If it wasn’t artificial, it was high sugar dried fruit or a low calorie high sugar cereal bar. I went through phases of different things to try and cope with the cravings, switching when I got bored of tasting a particular thing (the jelly wore off pretty quick).
At the end of the day, using artificial sweeteners for such deep rooted habits is not a long term solution and either acts as delaying tactic or, if you’re lucky, a progressive stepping stone. Reiterate a stepping stone, not something you stand on until it erodes away and you can’t go any other way.
I believe artificially sweetened produce can play a part it overcoming sugar, but more in the way it shows you can change your habits. If you can replace a chocolate bar with a low calorie hot chocolate, then you are capable of replacing a hot chocolate with a sweet tasting liquorice tea, or a normal tea and so on.
A couple of substitutions in the right direction can be easier, more practical and more sustainable than going cold turkey. This worked for me and is why I offer a weekly tip when you subscribe to Happy Sugar Habits.
I will note to always consider whole fresh fruit as another alternative to artificial sweeteners. It’s filling, has more nutritional benefit and is natural. Although I am fully aware blueberries don’t go too well in tea.
For the sweet tea drinkers, again a stepping stone. If you are serious about sugar, you need to accept one day going without sweet tasting tea. A lifetime of daily sweeteners may damage your taste buds, which frankly would be a bit of a shame.
A more ad-hoc approach
In today’s society and lifestyle, artificial sweeteners have a place on a more occasional basis to keep big sugar hitters out of the picture without giving up all nice things.
Take gin and tonic. I did nearly cry when I discovered the amount of sugar in tonic water. Replacing with a slimline tonic (usually sweetened with saccharin) is a better choice. Depending on your drinking habits, it’s only going to be on occasion. The same goes for the odd diet coke here and there, or using some sweetener as a sugar substitute in a specific recipe. Again, balance and moderation as I mention in every post, because at the end of the day, that’s life.
So the Happy Sugar Habits take on artificial sweeteners…
A non-essential tool in the box of tricks that you need to make sure you can live without, whilst appreciating it might come in handy every now and then. They are good for you when you use to your advantage and bad if you rely on on them.
Do you agree? Or do you steer clear? Please share, tweet, comment…