Artificial sweeteners may seem harmless, and they often are when consumed in small doses. A Diet Coke a week or a sugar-free sweet a couple times a month likely won’t cause any adverse effects.
However, when you consume artificial sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose on a regular basis, you might experience everything from digestive upset to chronic headaches.
Here are some things to keep in mind about artificial sweeteners so you can decide whether or not you want them in your body.
How Artificial Sweeteners Affect the Body
Artificial sweeteners are additives to food and drinks that make them taste sweet, without adding to the sugar or calorie content. From diet soda to protein bars, you can find these sweeteners in just about anything labeled as “sugar-free”, “diet” or even “low carb”.
“Respect your body, and look forward to feeling healthy and clean. Your body deserves better than laboratory-made sweetness.”
Using these types of sweeteners on occasion might not cause your body too much distress. However, people who consume products with artificial sweeteners regularly, might notice some of the following issues.
Your Sense of Taste May Become Dulled
Have you noticed that your taste buds have changed, or the intensity of flavors have dulled over time? This might actually be the result of an over consumption of artificial sweeteners. This is because these sweeteners are many times sweeter than more natural sweetening products.
What happens is that you become accustomed to the sweeter taste of artificial, processed sweeteners.
Eventually, you will lose the desire for naturally occurring sugars.
But the good news is that if you start reducing how much artificial sweetener is in your diet, and begin using natural sources of sweeteners, your normal tastes can return.
This doesn’t mean you should never touch aspartame again (although, that’s not a bad idea), but by incorporating more natural sugar or stevia into your diet, you can easily cut back on the sugar free and diet options.
They Can Boost Craving Intensity
One of the most dangerous effects caused by sweeteners is that they have the ability to stimulate pleasure centers in your brain. Under normal circumstances, these pleasure centers eventually reach a point where they become satisfied and you feel fulfilled and are able to stop eating or drinking.
However, artificial sweeteners can override these self-regulating centers, leading to intense cravings that cause people to overindulge in foods and drinks. So, while you thought you were cutting down on calories using artificial sweeteners, you end up eating more. A Diet Coke is no longer a “diet” drink when you have to eat and drink even more to feel filled up!
You May Develop Gut Problems
Some studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can also have negative effects on your gut health.
Even though these products are considered safe, you can develop a glucose intolerance from these sweeteners.
They can also add to digestive distress like stomach cramps, nausea, and other issues with your digestive system.
Signs to Cut Back on the Sweeteners
Sweeteners affect everyone differently, but if you have any of the following issues, it might be time to figure out whether or not your artificial sweetener consumption is to blame.
You Start Having Stomach Issues
One of the most common complaints with overusing artificial sweeteners is that they can cause upset stomachs and some intestinal distress.
Researchers have found many links to gut health and artificial sweeteners.
It may take some time to figure out if the effects you are experiencing in your gut are actually from the artificial sweeteners.
The best way is to keep a food diary so you can track what symptoms you have, and what you consumed before experiencing them.
If you notice a trend, you may have found your culprit.
You Begin to Gain or Lose Weight Suddenly
Changes in gut flora shouldn’t be ignored, and it turns out that the microflora living inside humans can have a major impact on health and even cognitive functions. Changes in gut flora can influence mood, and even trigger depression.
When gut flora can’t properly carry out their functions, the body might go into a mode where it can only store energy as fats. That leads to sudden weight gain, and much of it has to do with the signals being sent to your brain and body.
On the other hand, some people notice the opposite, where they start losing weight, often from gut or other health issues as a result of the artificial sweeteners.
Losing or gaining weight unexpectedly and without an obvious reason is a good sign that you might need to consider your diet and get help from a doctor.
You Feel “Off” for Unknown Reasons
There are a wide range of negative effects reported by people who consume large amounts of artificial sweeteners. In some cases, you just feel off – you might be a little gassy or bloated, have a headache, experience low energy, or have issues with your heart health.
Any changes in your overall health should be discussed with your doctor, and don’t forget to tell them about your diet, particularly if it involves artificial sweeteners.
Artificial Sweeteners to Avoid
In general, small amounts of artificial sweeteners are not toxic or dangerous, but science has proven time and time again that there are some potential drawbacks. Some people experience side effects when they consume certain types of artificial sweeteners, especially in large quantities.
Here are some of the artificial sweeteners you might want to avoid in the future, so you can feel your best.
Aspartame is currently one of the most popular and well-known artificial sweeteners on the market. Even though there are been a number of studies that show the sweetener in an unfavorable light, the FDA has continued to allow it as an additive.
It currently controls one of the largest portions of the sweetener market share as well.
According to various researchers who have looked thoroughly into the effects of aspartame, there have been documented cases of people experiencing seizures, headaches, nausea, depression and heart palpitations.
While it is the most popular, it is also one of the FDA’s most problematic artificial sweeteners.
Saccharin is a unique artificial sweetener in that it was once pulled off the shelves by the FDA, but new evidence suggested that saccharin wasn’t responsible for certain cancers.
Studies have been continued in recent years as consumers report negative experiences after using this sweetener. Doctors concluded that while they can’t be sure that saccharin is actually what is causing the issues, it should still be considered because of the commonality of its presence in testing.
This sweetener is a sugar alcohol that is found in products like toothpaste, gum, deodorants, and even your children’s medicine.
Ingesting small amounts of this sweetener is not a problem in most cases, but if you find that you are consuming Xylitol in several products at the same time, you may find your body reacting. You might want to consider switching some of the brands you use for others that don’t use Xylitol in their products.
People who have complained about Xylitol have experienced bloating, dizziness, and symptoms that culminate in laxative effects.
A further problem with this sweetener is that it is poisonous to animals.
Sucralose and Maltodextrin
These two sweeteners are found in quite a few products as well. The most common complaints about sucralose and maltodextrin is that they cause digestive distress, abdominal cramping, and general gut health problems.
Safe Artificial Sweeteners and Natural Sweeteners
When you want to enjoy your favorite sweet treats and drinks without the added sugar, you have likely looked at the sugar-free varieties made with common artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose.
However, if you are also interested in a more natural approach to your food, artificial sweeteners are the last thing you want to put in your body.
Luckily, there are some safer, more natural sweeteners that don’t affect your body like sugar, but also won’t come with many of the side effects of artificial sweeteners.
Stevia is definitely one of the most popular natural sweeteners on the market.
While often labeled as an artificial sweetener, it is anything but. Stevia actually comes from the stevia plant, which has a sweet taste without the glucose effects of other forms of sugar.
It is a type of herbal supplement, and considered a non-nutritive sweetener. It can mimic sugar in many foods and drinks, and is being found more and more in processed diet or sugar-free varieties of foods.
Agave nectar is another sweetener that can be considered healthier than sugar, with some added health benefits. However, it is not low in carbs like these other natural sweeteners or artificial sweeteners – so it is often used simply in place of regular white table sugar.
It provides a lot of sweetness while also providing some nutritional benefits. Agave Nectar is best used sparingly as it may affect blood sugar.
The newest natural sweetener to hit the market is perhaps one of the most popular. If you have not heard of monk fruit yet, you likely will soon.
This sweetener has no aftertaste like stevia, but has all the benefits of other sweeteners. It is extracted from the monk fruit, which has a sweetness very similar to sugar.
Coconut sugar (my favorite!)
Coconut sugar is a natural sweetener made from the sap of flower buds from the coconut palm tree. Coconut sugar has tremendous benefits that make it a much better choice than many other sweetener options. For instance, coconut sugar is better for diabetics and the gut than your normal, everyday sugar or artificial sweetener, and it holds trace amounts of vitamins and minerals.
When all is said and done, it is up to you to decide whether or not artificial sweeteners are worth the risk. Needless to say, the safest option will always be to use a more natural product for sweetening purposes.
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