We are coming to realize more and more that being fit and feeling healthy isn’t just a matter of pumping iron at the gym—in fact, weight loss is 75 percent diet and only 25 percent exercise. But let’s be honest, who can resist a slice of chocolate cake or the perfect juicy cheeseburger?
What makes artificial sweeteners so appealing?
Unfortunately, sugar is quickly converted to calories in the body, and when our caloric intake exceeds our output we pack on the pounds. Which is why artificial sweeteners have become so appealing. These sweeteners are sweeter than sucralose (table sugar), and aren’t needed in the same quantities (meaning fewer calories) to get the same taste, and some of them simply aren’t absorbed by the body at all (meaning no calories). These artificial sweeteners seem to be the solution to every dieter’s plea for sweets. But there are several reasons you should think twice about consuming artificial sweeteners.
Artificial Sweeteners Lead to Poor Dieting Choices
Artificial sweeteners can reduce the appeal of healthy, naturally sweet foods, influencing us to make poor diet choices. When we eat a piece of fruit, the sugars bind to a specific protein receptor found on our taste buds. This leads to a series of reactions that result in a signal to the brain that identifies the taste as “sweet.”
Artificial sweeteners are molecules that also have the ability to bind to these receptors, and they do so even more effectively than ordinary sugar. In fact, our brain perceives artificial sweeteners to be anywhere from hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than sucralose.
While that may seem like something to applaud, a Harvard Medical School article explains otherwise. In the article, Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity and weight-loss specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, cautions that, “Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes.” As we lose our sensitivity to the sweetness of natural sugars, healthy sweets lose their appeal.
Artificial Sweeteners Can Lead to the Consumption of More Calories
Although there is room for further research, studies are beginning to show that artificial sweeteners could cause you to consume more calories. Scientific American related the details of a study conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. In the study, researchers observed that fruit flies fed a diet of artificial sweeteners consumed 30% more calories than fruit flies on a diet of regular sugar. The researchers discovered that the cause was an integration in the brain between the perception of “sweet” and energy content.
When “sweet” is perceived, but caloric energy doesn’t accompany it, the brain compensates for the disparity by signaling the body to consume more calories. On a more conscious level, we may justify consuming less-healthy foods because of our artificial sweetener consumption. We may not place artificially sweet treats in the same category as their sugary counterparts; Though it still lacks substantial nutritional value, it’s much easier to reach for a chocolate pudding cup when “Sugar Free!” is branded across the package. Or we may justify a slice of pie because the soda we’re drinking is calorie free. All of these are factors that can cause us to overeat.
While there is still heavy debate over the safety of artificial sweeteners, natural sweeteners have an understood effect—overconsumption can add inches. But not all sugars are equal. In fact, there are many naturally sweet foods that come with nutrients and benefits. Some of these nutritious sweeteners can even be substituted for refined sugar (one of the least-beneficial sweeteners) in recipes. If you’re looking for ways to replace artificial sugars with natural sources, there are several different options worth considering.