Almost any sweet food or drink you can buy is available in a “sugar-free” version. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s not sweet; it means the sugar has been replaced with artificial sweeteners – and the effects that come with them. You can find soft drinks, baked goods, candy, puddings, canned foods, and jams with these chemical versions of sugar. Many people turn to diet versions of their favorite foods in an attempt to lose weight or improve their diet. It sounds logical, after all. Excess sugar is a problem in many people’s diets, so why wouldn’t it be a good idea to eliminate those empty calories? It’s true that refined sugar isn’t healthy. However, the effects of artificial sweeteners may actually be worse for the body in the long run.
Toxic Side Effects of Artificial Sweeteners
It seems hard to believe that something so ubiquitous in our food supply can be dangerous. Lower calorie foods are generally considered healthier choices. Nonetheless, there are common health risks and toxic side effects that come with artificial sweeteners. Over the years, the FDA has required some tinkering with very dangerous kinds of artificial sweeteners, but even with these improvements, they are still toxic. Some of the common side effects of artificial sweeteners that consumers report are:
- digestive problems
One reason for the digestive issues many people experience is the way these sweeteners seem to affect gut bacteria. These chemicals aren’t taken up into the body the way sugar is, so they can accumulate in the digestive system. The healthy bacteria in the gut are left with this overload of fake sugar. However, these sweeteners can’t be used by the beneficial bacteria, so they die off, leaving space for unhealthy microbes to flourish. This dysbiosis makes it more likely for people to develop metabolic problems, such as glucose intolerance.
The potent sweetness of these chemicals can also affect the way we taste food. Taste buds become desensitized, and so normal flavors become dull and unappetizing. Fruit and even sugar no longer taste sweet enough, and non-sweet foods, such as vegetables seem unpalatable. Researchers have even referred to this as an addiction, because it leaves people craving more and more intense sweetness, which is ultimately counterproductive for dieting efforts.
Ironically enough, artificial sweeteners don’t even seem to help people lose weight. Research shows that they may even make people gain weight. The body responds to sweetness by releasing insulin, and that’s true even when there are no calories to process. One of the toxic effects of artificial sweeteners is that they trick the body into thinking it must release insulin to process the intake of sugar. This wash of insulin then has nowhere to go, which can contribute to insulin resistance and all the damage it does. The sweeteners also have been shown to affect the food craving pathway in the brain, increasing cravings and hunger.
What Should You be Aware Of?
To avoid these problems it’s safest to stay away from artificial sweeteners entirely. Here’s what to look for when you’re reading labels:
- acesulfame potassium-k
This doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life without sweetness, though. Even if you’re avoiding processed sugar there are alternative sweeteners without toxic side effects that you can safely enjoy.
- Agave syrup or crystals
- local honey
- maple syrup
- monk fruit (luo han go)
- pure stevia
Apollo Medical Associates serves the Colorado Springs area with functional medicine and medical weight loss treatment. Artificial sweeteners are one example of how we can help pinpoint the details that stand between you and vibrant health. Each patient in our practice receives personalized treatment to meet their unique needs. To experience how we can help you feel your very best, contact our health experts today for an appointment.