While often perceived as a harmless sugar alternative, artificial sweeteners, when consumed regularly, can lead to a range of health issues.
In this post, we talk about the effects of artificial sweeteners and why eliminating your intake could be a key step towards better health.
How Artificial Sweeteners Affect the Body
Artificial sweeteners are additives to food and drinks that make them taste sweet, without adding to the sugar or calorie content. From diet soda to protein bars, you can find these sweeteners in just about anything labeled as “sugar free”, “diet” or even “low carb”.
If you consume these only rarely, you might not notice much of a difference. However, for people who consume products with artificial sweeteners regularly, they might notice some of the following changes.
Your Sense of Taste May Be Dulled
Have you noticed that your taste buds have changed, or the intensity of flavors have dulled over time? This might actually be the result of an over consumption of artificial sweeteners. Some of the this is due to the fact that many of these sweeteners are many times sweeter than naturally occurring sweeteners.
You begin accustomed to the sweeter taste of artificial, processed sweeteners, and over time, start losing the desire for naturally occurring sugars. But the good news is that if you start reducing how much artificial sweetener is in your diet, and begin consuming natural sources of sweeteners, your normal tastes can return.
This doesn’t mean you should never touch aspartame again, but start incorporating more sugar or stevia into your diet, and cut back on the sugar free and diet options.
It Can Boost Craving Intensity
One of the most dangerous effects caused by sweeteners is that they have the ability to stimulate pleasure centers in your brain. Under normal circumstances, these pleasure centers eventually reach a point where they become sated and you stop eating or drinking, but with the presence of artificial sweeteners, satisfaction is often arrested completely or simply delayed if the consumer is fortunate. The end result is almost always intense cravings that cause people to overindulge in foods and drinks, and that is contrary to what they had been trying to achieve the entire time.
Gut Problems May Be in the Future
Some studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can also have negative effects on your gut health. For example, even though sweeteners are considered safe, you might develop a glucose intolerance form the sweeteners. They can also add to digestive distress like stomach cramps, nausea, and other issues with your digestive system.
If you notice that you have a stomachache when you drink a Diet Coke, it might be from the sweeteners used, as opposed to the other ingredients.
Signs to Cut Back on the Sweeteners
While there is nothing wrong with having artificial sweeteners in small doses, if that is a part of your lifestyle, there can be some detrimental effects. Sweeteners affect everyone differently, but if you have any of the following ailments, it might be time to determine whether or not your artificial sweetener consumption is to blame.
Your Gut Starts Having Issues
One of the most common complaints that have been mentioned by consumers is that they are having upset stomachs and some intestinal distress. That can be extremely inconvenient if you need to get to a high-pressure job where your livelihood depends on your focus. Researchers have found many links to gut health and artificial sweeteners.
Symptoms of gut distress:
Gas and bloating
Constipation or diarrhea
Nausea and general stomach aches
Uneasy feeling in the gut
It may take some time figuring out that the effects you are experiencing in your gut is actually from the artificial sweeteners. This requires keeping a food diary so you can track what symptoms you have, and what you consumed before experiencing them. If you notice a trend where you feel this way after diet or sugar free foods and drinks, you may have found your culprit.
You Begin to Gain or Lose weight Suddenly
Changes in gut flora shouldn’t be ignored, and it turns out that the microflora living inside humans can have a major impact on health and even cognitive functions. Changes in gut flora can influence mood, and trigger depressive episodes that are difficult to handle for some people.
When gut flora can’t properly carry out their functions, the body might go into a mode where it can only store energy as fats. That leads to sudden weight gain, and much of it has to do with the signals being sent to your brain and body.
On the other hand, some people notice the opposite, where they start losing weight, either from the loss of cravings, or from other health issues as a result of the artificial sweeteners. Losing or gaining weight unexpectedly and without an obvious reason is a good sign that you might need to consider your diet and get help from a doctor.
You Feel Off for Unknown Reasons
There are a wide range of negative effects reported by people who consume large amounts of artificial sweeteners. In some cases, you just feel off – you might be a little gassy or bloated, have a headache, experience low energy, or have issues with your heart health.
Any changes in your overall health should be discussed with your doctor, and don’t forget to tell them about your diet, particularly if it involves artificial sweeteners.
Artificial Sweeteners to Avoid
In general, artificial sweeteners are not toxic or dangerous, but science has proven time and time again that there are some potential drawbacks. Some people experience side effects when they consume certain types of artificial sweeteners, especially in large quantities.
Here are some of the artificial sweeteners you might want to avoid if you are interested in reducing these side effects.
Aspartame is currently one of the most popular and well-known artificial sweeteners on the market. Even though there are been a number of studies that show the sweeteners in an unfavorable light, the FDA has continued to allow it as an additive. It currently controls the one of the largest portions of the sweetener market share as well. According to various researchers who have looked thoroughly into the effects of aspartame, there have been documented cases of people experiencing seizures, headaches, nausea, depression and heart palpitations. A large portion of the complaints from consumers to the FDA have been revealed to be about Aspartame.
Saccharin is a unique artificial sweetener in that it was once pulled by the FDA, but new evidence provided by studies suggested that saccharin wasn’t responsible for the cancer. Studies have been continued in recent years as consumers report negative experience and doctors draw conclusions that while they can’t be sure that saccharin is actually what is causing the issues, that it should still be considered because of the commonality of its presence in testing.
This sweetener is a sugar alcohol that is found in products like toothpaste, gum, deodorants, and even your children’s medicine. Ingesting one thing with this sweetener wouldn’t be a big deal in most cases, but if you find that you are ingesting serving size amounts of these sweeteners in a large portion of your products, it could add up to a potential for illness or complication of some kind. You might want to consider switching some of the brand you use for companies that don’t use Xylitol in their products.
People who have complained about Xylitol have experienced bloating, dizziness, and symptoms that culminate in laxative effects, but the worst thing about this sweetener, is that it is a poison that can kill your dog.
Sucralose and Maltodextrin
These two sweeteners are found in quite a few products as well. The most common complaints about sucralose and maltodextrin is that they cause digestive distress, abdominal cramping, and general gut health issues.
Acesulfame Potassium is an artificial sweetener that has a powerful sweet flavor. The main drawback of this sweetener is that it has a strong aftertaste that is usually described as bitter, so many formulas that include the use of acesulfame potassium end up using another sweetener to cover for that taste. Consumers have reported few effects, and it should be noted that case where issues appeared seemed to involve heavy consumption.
In fact, you might find this often in flavored sparkling water and other products catered toward sweet flavors without added carbs, sugar, fat, or calories.
Safe and Natural Sweeteners
When you want to enjoy your favorite sweet treats and drinks without the added sugar, you have likely looked at the sugar free varieties made with common artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose. However, if you are also interested in a more natural approach to your food, this is likely the last thing you want to ingest in your body.
Luckily, there are some safer, more natural sweeteners that don’t affect your body like sugar, but also won’t come with many of the side effects that the artificial sweeteners come with.
Stevia is definitely one of the most popular natural sweeteners on the market. While often labeled as an artificial sweetener, it is anything but. Stevia actually comes from the stevia plant, which has a sweet taste without the glucose effects of other forms of sugar. It is a type of herbal supplement, and considered a non-nutritive sweetener. It can mimic sugar in many foods and drinks, and is being found more and more in processed diet or sugar free varieties of foods.
Agave nectar is another sweetener that can be considered healthier than sugar, with some added health benefits. However, it is not low in carbs like these other natural sweeteners or artificial sweeteners – so it is often used simply in place of regular white table sugar. It provides a lot of sweetness while providing some nutritional benefits. It’s suggested that it be used sparingly to help regulate blood sugar.
The newest natural sweetener to hit the market is perhaps one of the most popular. If you have not heard of monk fruit yet, you likely will soon. This sweetener has no weird aftertaste like stevia sometimes can, but has all the benefits of other sweeteners. It is extracted from the monk fruit, which has a sweetness very similar to sugar.
Empowering Your Sweet Choices
Navigating the world of sweeteners can be complex, but your health is worth the effort. By understanding the potential risks of artificial sweeteners and exploring natural alternatives, you can make informed choices that align with your health goals. Remember, what you put into your body significantly impacts your overall well-being, and sometimes the sweetest choice is the one that respects your body’s natural balance.