I frequently hear that someone has switched to diet soda, and that person is probably genuinely attempting to improve their health. The problem is, artificial sweeteners don’t help dieters. In fact, those in diet drinks have been proven to work against your attempts to lose weight.
Want the quick summary?
- Artificial sweeteners appear to increase appetite
- Some artificial sweeteners have been proven to increase blood sugar
- Artificial sweeteners may cause you to crave more sweets
- Diet soda drinkers have bigger waistlines than non-diet soda drinkers
Toss the Artificial Sweeteners
It seems like a no-brainer that artificial sweeteners would be better for weight loss than white sugar. Zero calories, no carbs, so no blood sugar spike. Unfortunately, that’s not true for the chemical sweeteners. Besides questionable (or in the case of Aspartame, outright ominous) safety studies, there are several more reasons why getting rid of artificial sweeteners is important for dieters.
You May End Up Craving Sweets More
Let’s talk about sucralose (brand name Splenda), arguably the best of the bunch. Here’s what Shira Lenchewski, a registered dietician and nationally recognized nutrition expert says about it:
“Artificial sweeteners like Splenda contain a synthetic chemical called Sucralose, which is 600 times sweeter than natural sugar. Because Sucralose is so much sweeter than natural sugar, it overstimulates the taste buds, causing people to crave intensely sweet foods throughout the day.”
This means Splenda is triggering you to snack on bad food choices, and making your weight loss journey an uphill climb. Getting over craving sweets can be hard enough. You really don’t need an artificial sweetener working against you.
Artificial Sweeteners May Increase Appetite
The issue may not only be sweets. It appears that artificial sweeteners can increase appetite generally. When you’re trying to get your weight under control and improve your lifestyle, artificial appetite triggers are not going to be helpful.
“There is some evidence in humans that artificial sweeteners may subjectively increase appetite.”
– Dr. Melina Jampolis, Internist and Physician Nutrition Specialist
Your Blood Sugar May Spike or Increase
Recent research from the Washington University School of Medicine also indicates that sucralose could be affecting your body’s insulin response. It seems that the chemical effects the body’s responses to sugar (glucose), even though it has no calories. This could affect diabetes risk.
In their study, researchers found that consuming sucralose was associated with higher blood sugar peaks and 20 percent higher insulin levels in their obese study group.
While the researchers don’t claim to understand the mechanism, they’ve definitely proven that sucralose is having an effect. It’s more than a zero calorie sweetener with no consequences.
A previous study with mice showed that consumption of Aspartame, another artificial sweetener, was linked with higher fasting blood sugar levels.
Diet Drinks May Actually Contribute to Weight Gain
Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio tracked over 600 people aged 25 to 64 for up to eight years. They found that those who drank diet soda, even as little as one can or bottle per day, did not lose weight. Worse, they were significantly more likely to become overweight than those who drank regular, sugared soft drinks, or no pop at all.
In one study, comparing “regular” soda drinkers to diet soda drinkers, those who drank diet soda had a 70% greater increase in waistline growth 9.5 years later. In the group that were described as “frequent drinkers”, consuming more than two or more diet sodas per day, waistline growth was 500% greater than for non-drinkers!
The Best Choice: Natural Sweeteners
Assuming you’re going to use sweeteners at all, your best choice will be natural sweeteners such as Stevia. You may have to experiment a bit to find a variety you like, and you may have to retrain your taste-buds somewhat. Of course there’s the option of learning to pass on the sweeteners entirely, as well. Other choices which, while not perfect, are healthier than artificial sweeteners or white sugar include coconut sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup or honey. Remember to read labels on all products you buy to ensure you’re not inadvertently consuming artificial sweeteners.
In general, you’ll find the lifestyle changes that will result in lasting weight loss easier if you keep sweets as a very limited part of your food intake.