Many people, in an effort to lose weight and/or control their blood sugar levels, turn from sugar-sweetened beverages and products to those that use artificial sweeteners. The theory is that since artificial sweeteners contain no calories, a person consuming these products can still get the sweet-taste they love while avoiding the calories, blood sugar spikes and extra pounds that can come along with sugar sweetened beverages. Unfortunately, there is mounting evidence that not only is this not true; the research is showing that artificial sweeteners may cause weight gain and cause dramatic blood sugar spikes – exactly the behavior we have been led to believe they would prevent.

Weight gain

In 2008, researchers at Purdue University released a study that shocked the artificial sweetener world. The study showed that animals fed artificially sweetened foods and beverages had a harder time regulating their calorie intake and body weight than those fed naturally sweetened foods. The animals that were fed foods with artificial sweeteners ate more and gained more weight than animals that were fed foods sweetened with glucose which is a natural, high-calorie sweetener.

The reason why this occurred is thought to be due to our body’s hard wiring and normal feedback that occurs when we eat something sweet. Throughout time, when we eat something sweet, our bodies know to expect a lot of calories to come with that food. However, when we eat something sweetened with artificial sugars that contain no or too few calories, the body sends out signals telling us to eat more calories to make up the deficit. This is part of the reason eating artificially sweetened foods can lead to increased calorie consumption.

In addition, because the body is expecting calories to accompany sweet-tasting foods, it secretes a hormone called insulin when we eat foods with artificial sweeteners. Insulin removes sugar from the blood stream and transports it into our cells for energy; any sugar that cannot be used for energy is stored as fat. Consuming foods with artificial sweeteners contain no sugar for insulin to move, so the cells start to ignore insulin — they become insulin resistant. Insulin resistant cells don’t take up insulin or the sugar accompanying efficiently, which means that more and more calories will be stored as fat over time, leading to weight gain.

Blood sugar spikes

More recently, new findings published in the journal Nature showed that artificial sweeteners might be triggering higher blood-sugar levels in some people, contributing to the problems they were designed to combat, including diabetes and obesity.

The researchers suspect that the reason has to do with disruptions in the gut-flora caused by artificial sweeteners. This condition is often referred to as dysbiosis, and can cause not only alterations in how the body processes blood sugar, it can also lead to issues with digestion and assimilation of vitamins and minerals, neurotransmitter imbalances, food hypersensitivities and metabolic changes which can lead directly and indirectly to weight gain.

What to do

These studies are part of a growing body of research that indicates artificial sweeteners are not only potentially harmful to your health, but they may also be leading to and exacerbating the very conditions they are touted to reduce, including obesity and diabetes.

So does this mean you should go back to using sugar-laden foods and beverages? Absolutely not! What it means is that we quite literally cannot have our cake and eat it too. Our bodies need certain things to function well, including plenty of clean water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids – these are best gotten through a diet rich in vegetables, whole fruits, legumes, healthy flesh-protein, fish and nuts and seeds along with regular consumption of water throughout the day. The body will begin to adapt and break down if it doesn’t receive these vital nutrients and/or if it receives too many calories, toxins or sugar. Many of those forced adaptations are what are often referred to as diseases – including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

We have more control than we realize when it comes to obtaining and maintaining our health. We all know that we never get something for nothing – there is always a price to pay. The price we pay with artificial sweeteners is our health, and that’s a bet nobody should make.

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