Are artificial sweeteners a good dieting aid in the battle against the bulge? Let’s find out.
Potential Causes of Weight Gain With Artificial Sweeteners
If artificial sweeteners were to cause weight gain, it would come in one of two different forms.
- Physiological – The way artificial sweeteners act on the body in the physical sense. Do they create a metabolic environment that’s conducive to weight gain?
- Psychological – The way artificial sweeteners act on the body in the emotional sense. Do they create a desire to eat food up and above your caloric limits?
There are all kinds of artificial sweeteners on the market. It’s not possible to give a blanket statement for all of them. However, scientific literature has shown that various artificial sweeteners cause an insulin spike, while others do not have an effect on insulin at all (which is a selling point for diabetics).
An artificial sweetener that causes an insulin response would cause a hypoglycemic response. Your body would release insulin, but there would be no glucose (from the artificial sweetener) for it to remove from the bloodstream. Instead, it would remove what little blood glucose you have – leaving you with low blood sugar.
Low blood sugar tends to cause food cravings. It’s your body’s signal that it needs more glucose. Unfortunately, large swings in blood glucose usually lead to bad food choices in an effort to kill off the cravings. Believe it or not though, most artificial sweeteners do not cause an insulin spike.
The emotional effects of artificial sweeteners are what concern me most when it comes to weight gain. We all know of the emotional addiction to food that results from continuous processed food intake. Cravings for food are strong, and what you’re craving probably isn’t health food. By giving your body a taste of sweetness from artificial sweeteners, it can cause a want or desire to have more bad food.
What Does the Scientific Literature Have to Say?
In a study involving 78,694 women over a 1 year period, artificial sweetener users were significantly more likely to gain weight than nonusers . However, the weight gain averaged just a modest 2 pounds. Most of the advertising for artificial sweeteners is targeted towards people that want to lose weight. But do they actually help you lose weight? The addition of artificial sweeteners to diets pose no benefit for weight loss or reduced weight gain without energy restriction . In other words, without calorie restriction, artificial sweeteners have no weight loss benefit. With calorie restriction, there is no difference between sugar and artificial sweetener use.
The American Medical Association cautions pregnant women and children to limit their artificial sweetener use because there’s not enough data to assess risk. Even the AMA is unsure of the safeness of artificial sweeteners. Forget about weight gain. If you are trying to lose weight at the expense of your health, you might want to reassess your goals.
What’s the Verdict?
Artificial sweeteners provide no nutrition. They are empty “calories”. They are a processed man-made product. We can debate whether particular “natural” sweeteners like Stevia are OK to use, but the fact still remains that it’s processed food. If you must have a sweetener, try some honey instead. Honey at least has nutritional value and is a whole food.
With all the negative side effects that show themselves decades after a sweetener is approved for use, I’d be weary of experimenting with any artificial sweetener. Studies show that artificial sweeteners both cause weight gain and can help aid in weight loss, but that the real determining factor is calorie intake. All things being equal then, you should be focused on the health benefits, if any, of artificial sweeteners.
The real question you should be asking is if the product the artificial sweetener is included in provides you any kind of health benefit. Most of the products containing artificial sweeteners are processed foods and drinks. They may or may not have any calories in them, but calories are not the determining factor of your health. The choice is yours if you choose to use them, but I will continue to eat whole foods that are nutritionally dense – providing essential nutrients to keep my body healthy.