Drinking diet beverages and using artificial sweeteners on our foods instead of real sugar can sound like a smart, easy way to cut calories and lose weight. But it’s not the “magic bullet” it might seem.
About 30 percent of adults and 15 percent of children in the United States regularly consume artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, sucralose and saccharin. The assumption is that fewer calories means less weight gain. But research shows that frequent use of high-intensity artificial sweeteners may have the opposite effect by confusing our body’s natural ability to manage the number of calories we eat based on tasting something sweet. Since artificial sweeteners don’t help break our taste for sweets, we may ultimately be left craving more sugar–not less. This makes it more challenging for us to control our blood sugar levels and our weight. Artificial sweeteners may also alter the balance of healthy bacteria in our gut, which adversely affects our metabolism.
Also, findings from a variety of studies show that a penchant for diet sodas (even just one per day) can increase our likelihood of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and high blood pressure, in addition to making us fat. In other words, fake sweeteners may actually help cause the very health problems people who use them are trying to avoid.
But isn’t real sugar supposed to be “bad” for us too, you ask? The answer lies in moderation. You don’t need to give up having a little sweetness in your life. (How dreary!) Just remember to keep it real. At Yes Health, we recommend choosing natural, whole foods over anything processed or artificial as much as possible. (Even unsuspecting condiments like ketchup, barbecue sauce and pasta sauce can be loaded with sugar–real and otherwise.) So instead of reaching for a packet of Equal, quell your cravings with natural sugars. Sprinkle a handful of fresh berries or pureed fruit on oatmeal and snack on baby carrots for a crunchy-sweet afternoon pick-me-up.
P.S. Most people in our country eat a whopping 19 teaspoons or more of added sugar a day (basically 285 empty calories), which health experts agree is WAY too much. How much sugar is okay? According to the American Heart Association, no more than 6 teaspoons daily for women and a max of 9 teaspoons daily for men. Less is more!