A lot of people think that sugar-free treats are a healthy way to enjoy sweet foods, eating them with abandon because they don’t think they’ll gain weight on account of the fewer calories. This could prove to be a very costly mistake, however, as research shows that artificial sweeteners actually cause people to put on even more pounds.
A report that was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reveals the sour truth about artificial sweeteners. After analyzing 37 studies involving more than 400,000 people across a decade, they determined that artificial sweeteners do not help people lose weight. In fact, they found that those who consume one or more artificially-sweetened beverage per day actually have a higher risk not only of weight gain but also heart disease and diabetes.
Study author Meghan Azad, a University of Manitoba pediatrics professor, said: “I think there’s an assumption that when there are zero calories, there is zero harm.” She said this research shows that calories aren’t the sole factor in weight gain.
Other experts agree, as the body of research showing sweeteners don’t help continues to grow. Whether or not they cause harm is a topic of much debate considering the amount of money food companies earn on these products. It’s also complicated by the fact that people who consume artificial sweeteners are also often likely to eat more processed food in general, and that could also be contributing to obesity – a fact that those with a financial stake in sweeteners like to point out.
However, there have been plenty of studies that clearly show sweeteners do cause health problems. For example, they interfere with the gut microbiome, preventing the absorption of nutrients. They are also believed to make people crave sweeter foods.
Then there’s a different psychological effect that is also making people fatter: They think that because they aren’t consuming calories with their beverage, they can splurge elsewhere. A person who might not normally have dessert if they have soda with their dinner might go ahead and order it after having a diet drink.
More evidence sweeteners cause weight gain
A study published in Preventive Medicine of nearly 80,000 women discovered that those who used artificial sweeteners had a significantly greater likelihood of gaining weight than those who avoided the substances, while a study punished in Appetite found that eating foods that contain saccharin and aspartame resulted in greater weight gain than consuming sugar, even when the people studied had a similar overall caloric intake.
Part of the problem is the way your body reacts to these sweeteners. When you eat something sweet, your brain normally releases dopamine. In addition to making you feel good, it also causes a hormone called leptin to be released, which tells your brain you’re full once you’ve consumed enough calories. This makes your hunger go away under normal circumstances.
All that changes when you eat something sweet that has no calories, however, like in the case of artificial sweeteners. The sweetness will activate your brain’s pleasure pathway like usual, but when there aren’t enough calories to turn it off, your body will remain hungry and crave carbohydrates.
The science is clear: If you’re trying to lose weight, artificial sweeteners aren’t the helpful tools you think they are. In fact, they will likely end up having the opposite effect. Slowly reduce your sugar consumption, and you’ll be surprised how much better food tastes once you’ve re-trained your taste buds – and you could well finally see the pounds melt away.
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