By: Dr. Masoud Abdar
Did you used to think that drinking or consuming something labeled “diet” actually helped you avoid calorie and sugar intake? Well, not only do artificial sweeteners indirectly do the opposite to your body but they further complicate your quest to weight loss or maintenance, or even avoid diabetes.
A recent extensive analysis led by Dr. Meghan Azad and her team at the University of Manitoba, Canada, studied the diet patterns and food choices of nearly half a million subjects. Initially, she and her group of researchers found no correlation between artificial sweeteners and weight loss, further confirming that more time and observation had to be performed. As time went on, over a span of over 6 months’ time, Azad did notice a link between such sweeteners as aspartame, stevia, and sucralose, just to name a few, and their effects on her volunteers’ risk for weight gain, obesity, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and other related health problems.
The full thesis of Azad’s research is in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), but for a brief overview, her study determined that regular use of artificial sweeteners is associated with an increased risk for type II diabetes (preventable, adult onset diabetes), high blood pressure, some weight gain, and slight increase in waist circumferences.
One of Azad’s theories behind these sweeteners and their connection to weight and health hindrance, is that they disrupt healthy gut bacteria and confuse the body’s metabolism, causing it to overreact to sugary tastes as soon as such foods are consumed. When this happens, the body tends to store most if not all of this intake of sugar once consumed, and keep it as fat, typically in the mid section and waistline.
Another theory of Dr. Azad is that the routine consumption of artificial sweeteners causes the body to over-compensate for the missed calories from sugar, leading people to unhealthy diets in conjunction with sweetener use. In other words, when the brain receives signals that the body consumed artificial sweeteners, the brain then craves these flavors more, leading the subject to break otherwise good habits, and indulge in more desserts and unhealthy choices that contain sugar, which their confused metabolism stores as fat.
The take-away message from what to avoid here, is to not swap one harmful food to another. For instance, if you’re going to have diet soda or an artificially sweetened dessert, know that you are not doing your body any more good than if you were to just consume a regular soda or real sugar sweetened dessert. Instead, try to limit how often per week, you consume high sugar-content foods (that goes for carbohydrates/breads and starches too). Aside from how often, cut back on how much of such foods is eaten, and change your portion sizes to substitute more vegetables and legumes to keep you full.
Planning ahead helps too. We all know that when life gets hectic and fast paced, we tend to grab whatever’s convenient and forget about our health because we’re starving on that quick lunch break. Cut up some cucumbers without a dip for a snack. Pack some cut fruits. Always have a baggie full of almonds or walnuts with you when you’re starving before a meal and need a healthy pick-me-up. Lastly, pack a feast you’ll not only look forward to eating, but one in which you know what went into it, and the ingredients have your name written all over them, without any MSG, butter, added salt, you name it. An easy, balanced example is a hearty sandwich with all your favorite ingredients and little to no dressing/sauce.