Sweet and Low…. and FAT

New study proves that artificial sweeteners make us fat

Since the 80’s diet drinks sales have steadily increased but now scientists are finding that artificial sweeteners are not as ‘inert’ as we believe them to be.

A new study, published in PLOS, tracked users of low-calorie sweeteners in diet drinks for ten years and compared them with people who didn’t use artificial sugar. Those who used artificial sweeteners were heavier, more abdominally obese and and had larger waist circumferences than those who didn’t.

A 2015 study in the British Medical Journal analysed all the best available research on the association between Type 2 diabetes and sugar-sweetened drinks, artificially sweetened drinks and juices. The study concluded that regular consumption of sugary drinks was associated with diabetes but alarmingly the consumption of diet drinks was also linked to diabetes.

3 reasons why we should avoid Artificial Sweeteners:

  1. Artificial sweeteners can confuse the brain into thinking you have eaten real sugar

When we taste something sugary, our body is primed to release the hormone insulin, so that when the sugar reaches our gut we’re prepared to metabolise it. So when you eat artificial sweeteners, the body gets ready for sugar and releases insulin even though no actual sugar arrives.

Susan Swithers, a professor at Purdue University, who has done a lot of research on artificial sweeteners, proposes that constant use of artificial sweeteners might blunt the appropriate responses to real sugar and promote metabolic problems like diabetes and obesity.

  1. Diet Drinks increase your appetite

Experimental studies in humans have found that the taste of sweetness, whether real or artificial, can boost appetite and cause people to eat more.  A diet drink at lunch can fuel your appetite for food later on.

In his book The Diet Myth, Professor Tim Spector proposes that Aspartame can affect the hypothalamus in the brain and upset appetite pathways.  He also suggests that habitual diet drink users have altered reward pathways in the brain and get a greater kick out of sugar than non diet drinkers and are therefore more likely to consume sugary foods and drinks.

Psychologically you may also be more likely to treat yourself with sugary, fatty foods if you feel you have been virtuous earlier in the day.

  1. Sweeteners upset the delicate balance and function of your microbiome (bowel flora)

A study in 2008 found that feeding Splenda (sucralose) to rats at the recommended human dose for 12 weeks dramatically altered the number and diversity of microbes inhabiting the gut, significantly reducing the number of beneficial bacterial strains.   Even three months after they stopped feeding the rats Splenda, these changes were still evident.  If you disrupt your microbiome, you can slow down your metabolism, which has a negative effect on your overall health.

A  recent study by Eran Elinav and Eran Segal published in the journal Nature, found that giving mice normal levels of artificial sweeteners (sucralose, Aspartame and saccharine) produced a significant increase in blood glucose levels.  When the same sweeteners were given to ‘germ-free’ (no microbes in the gut) mice, no effect was found. When they transplanted the microbes from the guts of the first group of mice into the ‘germ-free’ mice, the levels of blood glucose increased again.  The researchers concluded that the gut microbes were directly responsible for raising blood sugar levels.  The same researchers then looked at the microbes of 40 people who regularly used sweeteners compared to 236 people who didn’t.  The sweetener group were found to have abnormal blood glucose and insulin levels.  Elinav and Segal concluded that artificial sweeteners altered the microbe population and increased the rate at which the microbes were able to digest carbohydrates and starch – causing weight gain.

In the light of all this new evidence, my advice is to avoid all artificial sweeteners, even those claiming to be natural such as Stevia.  Even agave nectar is not particularly healthy as it’s 80% fructose which means it is more likely to be stored as fat than used for energy.  Maple syrup or date syrup are better alternatives as they are rich in minerals and much lower in fructose.
There is no healthy sugar alternative – better to use a little of what you like in moderation rather than kid yourself that you are doing something beneficial for your health. The more sweetened foods you eat, regardless of how they are sweetened, the more you will hang onto that sweet tooth.

Alli Godbold

Alli Godbold is a qualified nutritional therapist, specialising in weight loss, fatigue and digestive and hormonal health. She is also a certified gluten practitioner. Alli has worked forThe Food Doctor and currently works as nutritionist for The Healthy Holiday Company and is a regular contributor to Healthista.com.  She runs frequent cookery workshops from her West London kitchen and has published a popular cookery book Feed Your Health.   She created the Nourish diet for weight loss and improved health and has recently published a book of healthy recipes for her Nourish clients More Nourish Diet Recipes