There are currently five different artificial sweeteners on the market. The one you’re most likely to encounter is aspartame, which also tends to be the worst of the bunch.
Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are primarily promoted to diabetics and those concerned about their weight. This despite the fact that artificial sweeteners have repeatedly been shown to produce the exact opposite effects:
- Research shows that aspartame worsens insulin sensitivity to a greater degree than sugar
- Artificial sweeteners have also been found to promote weight gain, in more ways than one
Over time, artificial sweeteners have also crept into a wide variety of products not directly targeting diabetics and dieters.
Artificial sweeteners are added to about 6,000 different beverages, snacks, and food products, making label-reading an ever pressing necessity. Disturbingly, food industry groups are now trying to hide the presence of artificial sweeteners in certain foods…
Like GMOs, Industry Wants to Hide Artificial Sweeteners in Foods
Last year, the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) filed a petition with the FDA requesting the agency amend the standard of identity for milk and 17 other dairy products, in order to allow for the addition of artificial sweeteners without having to indicate their use on the label.
The IDFA claims the proposed amendments would “promote more healthful eating practices and reduce childhood obesity by providing for lower-calorie flavored milk products” since many children are more inclined to drink flavored milk products than unflavored milk.
Not only is IDFA behind the push to put aspartame in milk, but they are also one of four trade organizations suing Vermont1 in an effort to overturn the state’s GMO labeling law, which was passed in May.
It would seem that, far from being concerned about providing Americans with high quality dairy, the IDFA is wholly invested in deceiving the American public for the benefit of the chemical technology industry. Why else would they be so insistent on hiding ingredients that are suspected of harmful effects?
Artificial Sweeteners Cause Metabolic Confusion
When you eat something sweet, your brain releases dopamine, which activates your brain’s reward center. The appetite-regulating hormone leptin is also released, which eventually informs your brain that you are “full” once a certain amount of calories have been ingested.
However, when you consume something that tastes sweet but doesn’t contain any calories, your brain’s pleasure pathway still gets activated by the sweet taste, but there’s nothing to deactivate it, since the calories never arrive.
Artificial sweeteners basically trick your body into thinking that it’s going to receive sugar (calories), but when the sugar doesn’t come, your body continues to signal that it needs more, which results in carb cravings.
Besides worsening insulin sensitivity and promoting weight gain, aspartame and other artificial sweeteners also promote other health problems associated with excessive sugar consumption, including:
- Cardiovascular disease and stroke4,5,6
- Alzheimer’s disease. While poor diet is a major driver of Alzheimer’s in general (the primary culprits being sugar/fructose and grains, especially gluten), the key mechanism of harm here appears to be methanol toxicity—a much-ignored problem associated with aspartame in particular.
In a previous interview, toxicology expert Dr. Woodrow Monte (author of the book While Science Sleeps: A Sweetener Kills7), explains the links between aspartame and methanol toxicity and the formation of toxic formaldehyde.
Research Overwhelmingly Refutes ‘Diet’ Claims of Artificial Sweeteners
Contrary to industry claims, research over the last 30 years—including several large scale prospective cohort studies—have shown that artificial sweeteners stimulate appetite, increase cravings for carbs, and produce a variety of metabolic dysfunctions that promote fat storage and weight gain—often to the researchers’ great surprise.
Below is sampling of some of the studies published through the years, clearly refuting the beverage industry’s claims that diet soda aids weight loss. The 2010 review in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine8 is particularly noteworthy.
It provides a historical summary of artificial sweeteners in general, along with epidemiological and experimental evidence showing that artificial sweeteners tends to promote weight gain. It also illustrates that as usage of artificial sweeteners has risen, so has obesity rates.
Source: Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine June 8 2010: v83(2)
Preventive Medicine19869 This study examined nearly 78,700 women aged 50-69 for one year. Artificial sweetener usage increased with relative weight, and users were significantly more likely to gainweight, compared to those who did not use artificial sweeteners—regardless of their initial weight.According to the researchers, the results “were not explicable by differences in food consumption patterns. The data do not support the hypothesis that long-term artificial sweetener use either helps weight loss or prevents weight gain.” Physiology and Behavior, 198810 In this study, they determined that intense (no- or low-calorie) sweeteners can produce significant changes in appetite. Of the three sweeteners tested, aspartame produced the most pronounced effects. Physiology and Behavior, 199011 Here, they found that aspartame had a time-dependent effect on appetite, “producing a transient decrease followed by a sustained increase in hunger ratings.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 199112 In a study of artificial sweeteners performed on college students, there was no evidence that artificial sweetener use was associated with a decrease in their overall sugar intake either. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 200313 This study, which looked at 3,111 children, found that diet soda, specifically, was associated with higher BMI. International Journal of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders,200414 This Purdue University study found that rats fed artificially sweetened liquids ate morehigh-calorie food than rats fed high-caloric sweetened liquids. The researchers believe the experience of drinking artificially sweetened liquids disrupted the animals’ natural ability to compensate for the calories in the food. San Antonio Heart Study, 200515 Data gathered from the 25-year long San Antonio Heart Study also showed that drinking diet soft drinks increased the likelihood of serious weight gain – far more so than regular soda.16 On average, for each diet soft drink the participants drank per day, they were 65 percent more likely to become overweight during the next seven to eight years, and 41 percent more likely to become obese. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 200517 In this two-year long study, which involved 166 school children, increased diet soda consumption was associated with higher BMI at the end of the trial. The Journal of Pediatrics, 200618 The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study included 2,371 girls aged 9-19 for 10 years. Soda consumption in general, both regular and diet, was associated with increase in total daily energy intake. Journal of Biology and Medicine, 201019 This study delves into the neurobiology of sugar cravings and summarizes the epidemiological and experimental evidence concerning the effect of artificial sweeteners on weight.According to the authors: “[F]indings suggest that the calorie contained in natural sweeteners may trigger a response to keep the overall energy consumption constant. …Increasing evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners do not activate the food reward pathways in the same fashion as natural sweeteners… [A]rtificial sweeteners, precisely because they are sweet, encourage sugar craving and sugar dependence.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 201020 This review offers a summary of epidemiological and experimental evidence concerning the effects of artificial sweeteners on weight, and explains those effects in light of the neurobiology of food reward. It also shows the correlation between increased usage of artificial sweeteners in food and drinks, and the corresponding rise in obesity. More than 11,650 children aged 9-14 were included in this study. Each daily serving of diet beverage was associated with a BMI increase of 0.16 kg/m2 Appetite, 201221 Here, researchers showed that saccharin and aspartame both cause greater weight gain than sugar, even when the total caloric intake remains similar. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, 201322 This report highlights the fact that diet soda drinkers suffer the same exact health problems as those who opt for regular soda, such as excessive weight gain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke.23,24 The researchers speculate that frequent consumption of artificial sweeteners may induce metabolic derangements. Nature, 201425 This study was able to clearly show causality, revealing there’s a direct cause and effect relationship between consuming artificial sweeteners and developing elevated blood sugar levels.People who consumed high amounts of artificial sweeteners were found to have higher levels of HbA1C—a long-term measure of blood sugar—compared to non-users or occasional users of artificial sweeteners.
Seven volunteers who did not use artificial sweeteners were then recruited, and asked to consume the equivalent of 10-12 single-dose packets of artificial sweeteners daily for one week.
Four of the seven people developed “significant disturbances in their blood glucose,” according to the researchers. Some became pre-diabetic within just a few days. The reason for this dramatic shift was traced back to alterations in gut bacteria. Some bacteria were killed off, while others started proliferating.
PLOS One, 201426 This study, which was done on rats, using aspartame, also found an increased risk of glucose intolerance. Animals that consume artificial sweeteners ended up with raised levels of propionate—short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) involved in sugar production. Consumption of artificial sweeteners shifted gut microbiota to produce propionate, which generated higher blood sugar levels.
Latest Research Reveals New Mechanism of Harm
Research published in the journal Nature27 in September of this year (see list above) reveals another, previously unknown, mechanism by which artificial sweeteners make you pack on unwanted pounds and disrupt your metabolic function. Most importantly, this study proves causation. In recent years, we’ve learned that gut microbes play a significant role in human health. Certain gut microbes have been linked to obesity, for example, and as it turns out, artificial sweeteners disrupt your intestinal microflora28,29,30,31—thereby raising your risk of both obesity and diabetes.
Specifically, the researchers found that artificial sweeteners alter metabolic pathways associated with metabolic disease. Decreased function was observed in pathways associated with the transport of sugar in the body, for example. Artificial sweeteners were also found to induce gut dysbiosis and glucose intolerance in otherwise healthy people. Of the artificial sweeteners tested, saccharin (Sweet’N Low) had the strongest impact, followed by sucralose and aspartame. Glucose intolerance is a well-known precursor to type 2 diabetes, but it also plays a role in obesity, because the excess sugar in your blood ends up being stored in your fat cells.According to the authors of this widely publicized study:32
“[W]e demonstrate that consumption of commonly used non-caloric artificial sweeteners formulations drives the development of glucose intolerance through induction of compositional and functional alterations to the intestinal microbiota… Collectively, our results link non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) consumption, dysbiosis and metabolic abnormalities, thereby calling for a reassessment of massive NAS usage.”
The following month, another study came out with very similar findings. This one, published in PLOS One,33 found that when rats were fed aspartame, it shifted their gut microbiota, causing it to produce propionate—short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) involved in sugar production—which led to elevations in blood sugar.
Reclaim Your Health by Ditching Artificially Sweetened ‘Diet’ Foods
When you add together the various routes of harm—from confusing your body with sweet taste without calories, to altering your gut bacteria for the worse—it becomes easy to see how artificial sweeteners have likely played a role in worsening the obesity and diabetes epidemics since their emergence in our food supply. I strongly recommend avoiding all artificial sweeteners, and to read food labels to make sure you’re not inadvertently consuming them. They’re added to some 6,000 different beverages, snacks, and food products, so there’s no telling where they might be hiding.
As for safer sweetener options, you could use stevia or Luo Han, both of which are safe natural sweeteners. Keep in mind however that if you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or extra weight, then you have insulin sensitivity issues and would probably benefit from avoiding ALL sweeteners.
Unfortunately, just like sugar, artificial sweeteners can cause you to become addicted to them. If you find you have trouble quitting diet soda or other artificially sweetened products, I suggest trying Turbo Tapping. This is a version of the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) that is specifically geared toward combating sugar cravings. For instructions, please see the article, “Turbo Tapping: How to Get Rid of Your Soda Addiction.” The video below with EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman also demonstrates how to use EFT to fight food cravings of all kinds.
If you still have cravings after trying EFT or Turbo Tapping, you may need to make further changes to your diet. My free nutrition plan can help you do this in a step-by-step fashion. Another resource is the Artificial Sweetener Challenge that I’ve partnered with Naturally Savvy to offer which shows you how you can replace artificial sweeteners with safe, natural alternatives. Last but not least, if you experience side effects from aspartame or any other artificial sweetener, please report it to the FDA (if you live in the United States). It’s easy to make a report — just go to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator page, find the phone number for your state, and make a call reporting your reaction.