Artificial sweeteners are synthetic food additives that act as a substitute for table sugar and have the same sweet taste with a significantly lower calorific (energy) content. The requirement for artificial sweeteners is rising due to the sudden spread of lifestyle disorders such as obesity, diabetes, etc. In addition, lifestyle disorders have become more prevalent due to various lifestyle factors such as poor diets, high levels of stress, little exercise, and disrupted sleep patterns.
For compensating energy deficits and avoiding dietary overconsumption, people have shifted to artificial sweeteners. These substitutes allow foods to maintain their palatability without adding excess calories, as sugar does. Artificial sweeteners are commonly associated with weight loss due to their ability to restrict the calorie count received by the body. Other than high-intensity sweeteners, certain sugar alcohols such as xylitol, maltitol, mannitol, etc., can be used as sugar substitutes. However, there is still some ongoing debate regarding the efficacy and benefits of these sweeteners. Also, there are questions about how they impact the physiology of our body.
FDA Approved Artificial sweeteners
The artificial sugar substitutes add to the enjoyment of eating and satisfying sweet cravings with managing calorie intake. However, excessive use of it causes unpleasant symptoms and health hazards. Research has found a link between being overweight with long-term consumption of artificial sweetening agents.
Be aware of the amount you put in your dish because it is 500- 900 times sweeter than traditional sugar. With the numerous kinds of products available on the market, FDA has approved only six artificial sweeteners mentioned below:
Ace-K (Acesulfame Potassium)
- FDA approved this sweeter in 2003 as an all-purpose, non-nutritive sweetening agent.
- It is stable at high temperatures, and you can use it in baked goods.
- It is 200 times sweeter than sucrose.
- FDA advises limiting using Ace-K to not more than 15mg per 1 kg of your body weight.
- Sunett® and Sweet One® are the common brand names for this sweetener.
- In 1996, FDA approved aspartame as an all-purpose, nutritive sweetening agent.
- It is unstable at high temperatures and loses its sweetness when heated.
- Nutrasweet®, Equal®, etc., are the common brand names under which aspartame is available.
- It is 200 times sweeter than sucrose.
- Individuals suffering from phenylketonuria are advised not to consume aspartame. That is because their body cannot metabolise phenylalanine, a component of aspartame.
- The FDA recommends the daily usage of aspartame should not be more than 50mg/kg of body weight.
- Sucralose is a non-nutritive sweetener that is 600 times sweeter than table sugar.
- It received approval as an all-purpose sweetener in 1999.
- Splenda® is a common brand name under which sucralose is available.
- Sucralose is stable at higher temperatures, and you can use it in baked goods.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the daily sucralose is 5mg/kg body weight per day in the U.S.
- According to the FDA, the recommended maximum intake of sucralose is 23 packets a day, equal to 5.5 teaspoons.
- The advantage is a non-nutritive sweetener that is 20,000 times sweeter than table sugar.
- It got approval as a sweetener for a common purpose in 2014, except in meat and poultry.
- It is stable at high temperatures, and one can use it in baked goods.
- The FDA claims 32.8mg per kg of body weight as a safe daily intake, while EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) recommends 5mg per kg. Therefore, dieticians and health experts suggest consuming below these levels.
- Neotame is a non-nutritive sweetener 7,000 to 13,000 sweeter than table sugar.
- It received approval as a sweetener for a common purpose in 2002, except in meat and poultry.
- It is stable at high temperatures, and one can use it during baking.
- The acceptable daily intake of neotame is 0.3 to 2 mg per kg of body weight.
- Newtame® is a common brand name under which neotame gets marketed.
- Saccharin is a non-nutritive sweetener 200-700 times sweeter than table sugar.
- 5mg per kg of body weight each day is considered safe by FDA.
- It is available under brand names such as Sweet’N Low®, Necta Sweet®, etc.
Artificial Sweeteners: The Mechanism
The body’s food-response system plays a critical role in synchronising eating behaviour and controlling the number of calories consumed. The brain values high-calorie foods; therefore, we find sugar so satisfying. These artificial sweetening additives tend to trick the taste buds without affecting the brain.
How do Artificial Sweeteners Work?
The food molecules tend to bind to the taste buds (receptors) on our tongues whenever we consume something. These receptors send signals to our brain when they bind with food molecules, causing us to perceive and identify a particular taste.
The molecules of artificial sweeteners bind to the receptors, and due to their similarity to commonly used sugar, they provide the taste of sweetness. These artificial sweeteners are foreign particles, and our body does not produce the enzymes required to metabolise them. Since the sweeteners do not undergo metabolisation, they provide sweetness and palatability. Of course, they come with the benefit of not having added calories.
- Note: Artificial sweeteners are subjected to premarket approvals by the FDA to evaluate their safety. Only six synthetic sweeteners are approved for consumption by the FDA. In addition, the FDA does not permit the use of whole-leaf crude stevia extracts and monk fruit extracts. However, highly purified steviol glycosides are available as stevia. Therefore, consuming only labelled and approved sweeteners in the recommended amounts is imperative to protect yourself from side effects and harmful reactions such as rashes, nausea, dizziness, etc.
Advantages of Using Artificial Sweeteners
One of the primary selling points of these sugar substitutes is the ability to add sweetness to food with minimal calories. The widely accepted stevia or stevia-based products have been in vogue for over 40 years. The U.S. approved stevia in 2008 and the E.U. in 2011. Even though artificial sweeteners are risky, one can use stevia at its recommended amount (FDA: 4 mg per kg bodyweight for both adults and children). Always try to consume your beverages and foods without any sweeteners at all instead of using artificial sweeteners. However, if you are used to having a sweeter taste for these, you can opt for artificial sweeteners. However, it still has quite a few advantages. Here is the list of a few benefits of artificial sweeteners:
It Helps Reduce the Use of Table Sugar
Artificial sweeteners work as substitutes for refined table sugar. They maintain the palatability of food with low calorific content. Regularly consuming refined table sugar is known to cause weight gain, tooth decay, diabetes, etc. Artificial sweeteners provide the same amount of sweetness with almost zero calories, and thus, they reduce the frequency of the usage of table sugar.
It Can Assist in Weight Loss
It is no secret that consuming sugar provides excess calories to the body and thus, causes an increase in body weight. Replacing table sugar with artificial sweeteners removes those extra calories from your diet and may assist in weight loss.
Some studies have reported that replacing sugary carbonated drinks with diet soda can cause a decrease in the BMI of up to 1.7 kg/m2 in men and 1.3 kg/m2 in women.
Helps Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
People with diabetes need to avoid eating excessive carbohydrate rich foods to prevent blood sugar levels from spiking and a main deterrent to diabetes is consuming sugar as it elevates blood sugar levels almost immediately and is dangerous for diabetics. Artificial sweeteners have the advantage of not having carbs so therefore consuming them prevents having inconsistent blood sugar levels.
Promotes Dental Health
Consuming traditional sugar regularly is harmful to our oral health. Substituting sugar with artificial sweeteners can help prevent dental caries and plaque buildup along our gums. Sugar acts as a nutritional source for various harmful bacteria, and thus, it promotes bacterial growth.
Xylitol is sugar alcohol known to have an anti-cariogenic effect and goes in various kinds of toothpaste, mouthwashes, etc.
Disadvantages of Using Artificial Sweeteners
These sugar substitutes may be an attractive alternative to sugar because they contain minimal calories. However, in excess they can cause chronic health problems. Listed below are a few health concerns related to the usage of artificial sweeteners.
Artificial Sweeteners can Cause Metabolic Syndrome
A metabolic syndrome is a group of disorders such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol levels, etc. These conditions, which constitute metabolic syndrome, increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Long-term replacement of sugar with artificial sweeteners may lead to developing metabolic syndrome. For example, some studies state that people who regularly consume diet soda have a 36% higher rate of suffering from metabolic syndrome.
Alter gut Microbiota
Non-caloric artificial sweeteners are known to cause gut dysbiosis, i.e. they alter the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Regular consumption of artificial sweeteners causes an alteration in healthy bacteria in the intestine. These healthy bacteria become pathogenic and produce biofilms, which allow them to adhere to the gut cells and damage them.
As proven by various research studies, this process leads to the development of the metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance, leading to glucose intolerance. The development of insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes, obesity, etc.
Retrain Cerebral Response
According to some researchers, regular consumption of artificial sweeteners ultimately leads to an imbalance in the process of glucose metabolism. Under normal conditions, when one consumes sugar, the brain creates an association between a sweet taste and the subsequent digestion of sugar. However, the sweet taste perception happens with artificial sweeteners, but no sugar digestion occurs. As a result of this dysfunction, the brain gets retrained and does not associate sweet tastes with calories-rich foods. Under this circumstance, the body does not respond to increased blood glucose levels, leading to dysregulation of glucose digestion and metabolism.
Consuming artificial sweeteners can train the brain to create a false sense of security concerning precious commodities. It can create cravings and hunger pangs because the sweet taste associated with calories does not provide nutrition. The imbalance between the consumption of sweeteners and the lack of digestible sugar can cause individuals to over-eat and gain weight.
Increase Cancer Risk
A large-scale population-based cohort study suggests a connection between higher intake of artificial sweeteners (especially aspartame and acesulfame-K) and overall cancer risk. More specifically, aspartame intake was associated with increased breast and obesity-related cancers.
Increase in Appetite
According to some studies, carbohydrates and sugar-rich foods, when consumed, cause the brain to release certain hormones, which bring about the feeling of satiety or fullness. This circuit is known as the food-reward pathway.
The calorie deficiency in artificial sweeteners causes the pathway to stay inactivated, and thus, the body does not experience the feeling of satiety. It causes hunger pangs and a drastic increase in appetite, further leading to the development of disorders such as obesity.
Synthetic Sweetening Agents: Weight Gain or Weight Loss Health Controversy
It is debatable if excessive artificial sweeteners contribute to weight gain or loss. Due to its replicating effect of sugar in taste with contributing fewer calories, it is a choice for people aiming for weight loss. However, studies have proven the health hazards that artificial sweeteners cause. A few of them are gaining weight, brain tumours, cancer, and many other health hazards. Also, some of them may have carcinogenic effects. There are divided opinions among health researchers on their perspectives on the issue of artificial sweetener safety.
Several studies verify the safety of artificial sweetening agents. On the other hand, some studies prove the harmful effects, but almost all of the studies have suggested “limitations”. Since every individual is unique, how the synthetically produced edible reacts to one’s body is unknown. Some of the sweeteners are acknowledged with alert labels or marks too. Therefore, it is still incompletely understood and needs more large-scale research to have a complete picture.
Artificial sweeteners seem to be a boon for those who need to curb their sugar intake due to certain disorders and unhealthy lifestyle choices. They act as a substitute for traditional sugar and reduce the number of calories added to your diet without destroying the palatability of a food item. In addition, these sweeteners help regulate BMI, blood sugar, body weight, waist circumference, etc.
Artificial sweeteners have numerous benefits, and ideally, their principle of essentially tricking the body should not have any significant side effects. Unfortunately, recent studies have linked their usage with increased insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, and hunger pangs. Artificial sweeteners cause the physiological response pathways of our body to go haywire, and thus, they lead to the development of imbalances and metabolic dysregulations.
The body’s response to consumption of artificial sweeteners is subjective to individual body types, genetic constitution, history of the disease, and eating habits and lifestyles. Ultimately, we can say that artificial sweeteners may not be a good solution as they can be detrimental to weight loss in the long run.
If your goal is weight loss, cutting sweet taste out of life is unnecessary. There are several other healthy sugar alternatives you can go with.
Some of Artificial Sweeteners examples include:
- According to research, raw honey is a good alternative because it is loaded with flavonoids and has several antimicrobial benefits. In addition, it functions as an antioxidant. However, be double-sure you consume raw honey and not adulterated ones. Because most of the ones available in the market have sugar diluted, that might cause a hindrance to your weight loss goals.
- Maple syrup is one of the best replacements for white sugar. It is a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. Moreover, as per research, it does not have a high glycemic index, which supports weight loss and diabetes.
- In its unrefined form, jaggery is a powerhouse of essential nutrients. Research proves it beneficial in moderation.
So if you are on a health loss journey, try these natural or healthy sugar alternatives which will aid in weight loss without causing harm in the long term. But make sure to consume in the recommended amounts. Moderation is necessary everywhere. Excess of anything leads to problems. So seek a dietician or a health expert’s advice before adding anything new to your diet.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. Do artificial sweeteners help with weight loss?
A. Artificial sweeteners provide the sweet taste of sugar without adding too many calories to our diets. They seem to be extremely promising, and they are known to aid in controlling blood sugar levels and reducing body weight. They do this by retraining our taste buds and modifying our normal physiological responses. Artificial sweeteners may help in weight loss in the short run. Still, in the long run, over some time, they have been known to result in weight gain and type 2 diabetes due to the development of glucose intolerance and insulin resistance.
Q. Do artificial sweeteners cause belly fat?
A. Artificial sweeteners are known to cause our brain to disassociate sweet taste from the inflow of calories. As a result, it causes individuals to overeat and fall prey to hunger pangs. In addition, the excessive consumption of artificial sweeteners leads to insulin resistance and, thus, dysregulated glucose metabolism. As a result, it causes an increase in body weight and belly fat.
Q. Which sweetener is good for weight loss?
A. Pure Stevia (steviol glycoside) is one of the most popular sweeteners today. However, if you consider substituting sugar with a sweetener, this zero-calorie and no sugar sweetener may benefit weight loss in the short run.
Q. Do artificial sweeteners slow your metabolism?
A. Artificial sweeteners function by disrupting the natural physiological functioning of our body. When the body stops associating a sweet taste with calorie-rich food, the hormones required for sugar metabolism start getting imbalanced. Artificial sweeteners also alter our gut’s microbiome and cause an imbalance between the composition of good and bad bacteria. This dysbiosis further leads to insulin resistance and, thus, a slower metabolism.
Q. Do sweeteners make you gain weight?
A. Artificial sweeteners cause short-term weight loss by rewiring our physiology and making our food reward pathways and glucose metabolism haywire. However, they are physiologically harmful in the long run and cause glucose intolerance due to insulin resistance. This imbalance causes weight gain over a while.
Q. What’s worse, sugar or artificial sweeteners?
A. Sugar and artificial sweeteners can both be addictive in their ways. Traditional sugar is a natural substance, and thus, it does not disrupt our physiology so drastically. If tconsumed in limited amounts, the blood glucose levels, if they arise, can be restored by the body. Artificial sweeteners disrupt our body’s natural functioning and unnecessarily harm glucose metabolism. Therefore, sugar in limited amounts is better than any artificial sweetener.
Q. What do artificial sweeteners do to our body?
A. In brief, artificial sweeteners maintain the palatability of food items without adding excess calories to our diet. They do this by retraining our cerebral response and our taste buds. They also alter the gut microbiome to cause insulin resistance and harm glucose metabolism. As a result, the food-reward pathway goes through modification, which also causes an increased appetite. In the short run, these sweeteners may cause weight loss, but in the long run, they lead to weight gain, hunger pangs, increased appetite, and a lack of efficient glucose metabolism.
Q. Do artificial sweeteners cause bloating?
A. Along with dizziness, nausea, headaches, and rashes, artificial sweeteners may also cause bloating as a side effect.
Q. What are the negative effects of artificial sweeteners?
A. Artificial sweeteners cause superficial weight loss and temporary blood sugar control. However, they disrupt the normal physiology and glucose metabolism due to insulin resistance in the long term. In addition, they alter the gut microbiome and cause increased appetite due to the incomplete food-reward pathway. Ultimately, they cause weight gain and the development of type 2 diabetes.
Q. Do artificial sweeteners cause water retention?
A. Artificial sweeteners such as stevia are diuretics and thus, do not cause any water retention. There is hardly any evidence to prove that artificial sweeteners cause water retention.