The Myths About Artificial Sweeteners


The GOOD News is that sugar may not be really that bad.

There are a lot of myths about artificial sweeteners. The main one is that they’re actually better for you than regular sugar. Low-calorie sweeteners have been around for decades now, and we’re finally at a point where we’ve studied them enough to understand roughly how they work and what effect they have on our bodies.

Here’s the good news: you can eat real sugar! You should eat real sugar. Just eat it in moderation. Satisfy the craving with a mini candy bar (or heck, even a whole piece of cake). Just try to make your overall eating habits as healthy as possible. Occasional sugar won’t make you pack on the pounds. It’s the constant insulin spikes and misleading artificial sweeteners that get you. Have your cake and eat it too—just don’t eat it every day.

Ludwig notes too that natural sources of sugar, like fruit, often don’t have the same effect on our insulin responses that candy and cake do. Fiber and other nutrients in fruit help keep your blood sugar levels lower, rather than spiking suddenly, and thus prevents your body from storing all those calories as fat.

More and more evidence is piling up that suggests the diet drink trend is misguided. Or as one 2008 study on obesity and artificial sweeteners asked in its conclusion: “are [artificial sweeteners] fueling—rather than fighting—the very epidemic they were designed to block?”

A few recent studies suggest that consuming fake sugar actually trains your insulin response to store more fat, not less. Basically when you consume real sugar, your tastebuds send an alert to your pancreas that says, “Hey, calories are on the way! Prepare to produce insulin!” The insulin then helps break down the sugars, which either provide immediate energy or go into fat cells for storage. If your body interprets something as sweet when there’s not really sugar on the table, though, it may end up producing that same insulin response. So that diet soda is still prompting your pancreas to store fat, even though you’re not getting to enjoy real sugar—your brain can tell the difference. Artificial sweeteners don’t trigger our reward circuits the same way, so you don’t get the satisfaction of ingesting sugar.

And on top of that, constantly pumping up your insulin response eventually leads it to malfunction. This is essentially what happens in type 2 diabetes, but can occur to a lesser—but still harmful—extent in otherwise healthy people. Eventually your pancreas starts producing too much insulin in response to all food, making you pack on the pounds.


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