In an effort to live a healthy lifestyle and cut sugar from your diet, you may reach for a sugar substitute. Sugar substitutes are any sweeteners that are used to enhance the flavor of food in place of table sugar. Artificial sweeteners are synthetic, although they may be made from naturally occurring substances. These sweeteners offer the benefit of sweetening your food without adding excess calories or contributing to tooth decay. However, artificial sweeteners may not be without their problems. The following are seven negative effects that artificial sweeteners may have on your body.
8. Increased Belly Fat
Artificial sweeteners are often used to sweeten items such as processed baked goods, sodas, and canned foods. They are appealing because they add a sweet flavor without adding extra calories. You might expect that consuming fewer calories would lead to weight loss and decreased belly fat. However, recent studies have shown just the opposite effect. A study reported in Endocrine Society suggests that instead of decreasing fat, low-calorie sweeteners actually contributed to weight gain in obese individuals. This may be due to interference with the body’s normal metabolism.
7. Altered Brain Function
Artificial sweeteners may also have a negative effect on your brain, memory, and understanding. A study published in the Journal of Biochemical and Molecular Toxicology found that artificial sweeteners decreased neuron function in the hippocampus of rat brains. The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for memory as well as emotional responses. In humans, damage to the hippocampus is associated with memory loss, depression, and even seizures. A moment of sweetness on the tongue provided by artificial sweeteners may not be worth the risk to memory and mental health.
6. Impaired Glucose Tolerance
Artificial sweeteners may seem like a good choice for diabetic or pre-diabetic patients who need to avoid a high intake of dietary sugar. However, artificial sweeteners may alter the composition of bacterial flora in your gut and lead to glucose intolerance. The oral glucose tolerance test is a test that checks your blood sugar levels before and two hours after drinking a highly sweet test beverage. Normal blood sugar levels two hours after the test are less than 140 mg/dl. Prediabetes is defined as a blood sugar level between 140-199 mg/dl. Diabetes is diagnosed at blood sugar levels of 200 mg/dl or greater.
5. Decreased Gut Health
Artificial sweeteners have an impact on gut health. In addition to altering the healthy bacteria in your gut, they may linger in your intestinal tract. Additionally, sugar substitutes such as sorbitol or xylitol can cause diarrhea. These substances can trigger or aggravate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Consumption of products containing artificial sweeteners may tempt individuals to consume more of a food than they really need, relying on the idea they are consuming a low number of calories. However, overeating contributes to weight gain, bloating, acid reflux, and discomfort.
4. Increased Risk of Heart Disease
Artificial sweeteners may be linked to weight gain and obesity, which increase the risk of heart disease. Studies regarding the link between artificial sweeteners and obesity are conflicting. However, it may be wise to avoid relying on synthetic sweeteners as a means to lose weight and improve heart health. Proven methods of decreasing your risk of heart disease include implementing a program of appropriate exercise and nutritious eating. Including leafy greens and naturally sweet, antioxidant-packed fruits will go a long way toward improving heart health.
3. Increased Risk of Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome refers to the group of risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing a condition such as heart disease, diabetes, or stroke. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the risk factors for metabolic syndrome include a large waist circumference and high fasting blood glucose levels. High triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, and high blood pressure are additional risk factors. Some studies have shown that artificial sweeteners may increase the risk of metabolic syndrome and cause obesity.
2. Altered Taste Buds
Artificial sweeteners work by activating the same taste buds that are affected by sugar. However, artificial sweeteners are often many times sweeter than table sugar. This can have a negative effect on your taste buds by changing your taste preferences. With time, you may discover you desire the super sweet flavors of artificially altered foods instead of the natural sweetness of healthful fruits and vegetables. Altered tastes can lead to making food choices that deprive your body of the nourishment it needs. Additionally, it can cheat you of the enjoyment of the wholesome foods that don’t contain the same level of sweetness.
1. What About Natural Sweeteners?
You may wonder if natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, molasses, and fruit juices are better choices than artificial sweeteners or table sugar. These substances are natural ingredients. However, they still contain the sugars that contribute to weight gain and the risk of obesity and heart disease. The healthiest meal plan is one that includes lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables while limiting sweets and excess salt.