For many of us, the hardest part of dieting is giving up the sweets.
You may pack in the healthy veggies, switch out chicken tenders for grilled fish, and start using low-fat creamer in your coffee, but it is just plain hard to give up cookies, chocolate, and the occasional mid-afternoon caramel latte or after-dinner cocktail.
Yet, the science is very clear (1). Sugar leads to weight gain and a whole host of other health issues. In response, food marketers and manufactures spent years creating the (not so) perfect solution: artificial sweeteners.
Advertised for decades as low-calorie, healthy substitutes to sugar, artificial sweeteners have long been the darling of the dieting world, allowing consumers to drink their favorite sodas, chewing gum, and salad dressing without the stress of counting calories (2).
But, like many things in life that seem too good to be true, the truth behind artificial sweeteners is anything but sweet.
Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad For You?
The research suggests that artificial sweeteners are not a good choice. Here are a few explanations why:
Artificial Sweeteners are Changing Our Tastebuds
If you’ve ever felt guilty about being unable to resist sugary treats, keep in mind that humans are built to crave sweet flavors as a means of survival. The problem is that, as a society, our threshold for what is considered sweet has changed. Whereas apples, bananas, or carrots used to be good measurements of sweetness, today’s artificial sweeteners are much, much sweeter, even in very small quantities. The result: we opt for the sweeter option, which tends to be highly processed and nutritionally deprived, instead of those wonderful natural treats like fruits and root veggies (3).
Your Body Says “No” to Artificial Sweeteners
One of the most striking things about artificial sweeteners is the fact that although they were originally developed as a weight-loss aid, their introduction coincided with a rapid increase in obesity. Why? Some studies suggest that gut microbiota, the tiny organisms that break down the foods we eat, react differently to sugar and sweeteners. In fact, this replacement of natural sugar has had destructive effects on our health, leading to glucose intolerance, a precursor to diabetes, and a condition called dysbiosis, in which the good bacteria in the gut are replaced with bad ones. All this imbalance and discord can create the perfect storm for uncontrolled weight gain, which completely defeats the purpose (4).
So What Do You Do?
Well, the answer is simple. Phase sweeteners out of your diet in favor of natural sources of sugar. This usually means sticking to the outer edges of the grocery store, where fruits, veggies, meats, and dairy tend to be located.
It may be hard at first to trick your body into thinking that an apple is as tasty as an Oreo, but over time your taste buds will adjust. After a while, foods with artificial sweeteners will actually taste bad! Also, be wary of low-cal drinks, especially ones that are trying hard to look healthy and organic.
Finally, don’t feel the need to quit cold turkey. Our craving for sweetness is a biological drive, meaning that modification is much more effective than deprivation, which can lead to binging. Overall, stay strong, know your bio, and give yourself plenty of sweet-talk.
Your body will thank you!