How Sweet It Is!
When working with people who are trying to lose weight, they tell me so proudly that they have switched from regular soda to diet soda and from sugar in their coffee to an artificial sweetener - that “guilt-free” sugar substitute. And then they are shocked when I suggest they eliminate all artificial sweeteners. “But I am dieting! Why would I do that?”
To start, artificial sweeteners can contribute to migraines, bloating, gas, dizziness, cramps, diarrhea and infertility issues. But that’s the least of it. While hardworking, determined dieters think they are doing a good thing, they don’t realize, “Accumulating evidence suggests that frequent consumers of these sugar substitutes may also be at risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” according to an NIH study. Here these well-intentioned folks are sacrificing their homemade chocolate chip cookie for a zero calorie option and they are adding pounds, especially around the belly.
How is this possible when the sweeteners have zero calories?!
Weitzman Institute of Science found that “artificial sweeteners, promoted as aids to weight loss and diabetes prevention, could actually hasten the development of glucose intolerance and metabolic disease by changing the gut microbiota.” Mice given artificial sweetener developed glucose intolerance compared to mice given water or even sugar water. Personalized Nutrition Project performed a study where people who did not generally consume artificial sweeteners did so for just one week. In that short period of time, many began to develop glucose intolerance. In one week! They discovered how artificial sweetener signals our gut bacteria to secrete a substance that provokes an inflammatory response similar to a sugar overdose.
NIH provided yet another clue: “Artificial sweeteners, precisely because they are sweet, encourage sugar cravings and sugar dependency. Repeated exposure trains flavor preference.” When we are accustomed to packets of Sweet‘n Low in our coffee, our taste buds are less likely to find healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts as tasty. Instead of craving kale, we crave cake.
I remember years ago doing an experiment. I gave up all sugars and artificial sweeteners. Six weeks later, I was at my son’s baseball game and one of the parents brought clementines for everyone to share. I took a bite, and asked the thoughtful mom in amazement, “Where did you get these?! This is the best clementine I have ever had!” She looked at me strangely. They were just regular clementines from the grocery store. Taste buds can change drastically in 21 days, and after six weeks, it was a scrumptious shock to my system.
But it’s not just our taste buds that change. Artificial sweeteners are shown to affect brain chemistry as well. Rats fed artificial sweeteners consumed more calories because they felt hungrier and they retained 14% more body fat in just two weeks than rats fed sugar. Brains get fooled into thinking they just ate sugar and turn up the production of insulin - the hormone that signals the body to store fat. They also slow down metabolism, increasing hunger and signaling cravings for foods high in sugar and starch, like bread and pasta.
Now for the scariest part: reports claim artificial sweeteners can even create an addiction. Rats offered the choice of cocaine or artificial sweeteners “always” chose the sweeteners, even the rats that were programmed to be cocaine addicts.
This explains why many people come into my office, beating themselves up. “Why can’t I control myself? What’s wrong with me? Where’s my willpower?” They just don’t realize what they are up against. While trying to make good decisions by eliminating sugar, they are substituting chemicals that can be more addictive than drugs.
If you are already in a steady relationship with artificial sweeteners, start by halving your dose for a full week. When you are about to sweeten your iced tea on this hot summer day, add 1/2 of one packet instead of the full one. Next week, use 1/4 of a packet, and so on. You will be surprised how much your taste buds change in just 3 weeks.
If you must have something sweet, choose healthy, low glycemic substitutes like: • Whole pieces of fruit (not juice) • 100% pure, organic, GMO free, green leaf stevia leaves that you grow in your garden or you buy dried. • Coconut Palm Sugar • Vanilla Extract • Cinnamon • Raw Honey (Note: NOT honey, but raw honey) This is my favorite because it is known to be anti-carcinogen, anti-bacterial and anti-viral with anti-inflammatory properties.
Take heed of a warning from Dr. Mark Hyman, Chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine and New York Times best-selling author. He recommends using even healthy alternatives sparingly because they can push us down the slippery slope. We must protect our taste buds. He goes as far as to say we should see them like we would a recreational drug like red wine or tequila. Don’t make the same mistake and think these suggestions are “guilt-free” and chow down on a dozen coconut palm sugar cookies!
Get crazy and take the Kimberly Clementine Challenge. Go 21 days with no sugars or substitutes and then take a bite of a fresh piece of fruit. Tell me if it wasn’t the sweetest, most delicious thing you have ever tasted!
Kimberly Hasenberg, AADP, H.C. Integrative Nutrition Health Coach KimberlyHasenberg@icloud.com