The promise artificial sweeteners make is to give you the taste of sweetness without the calories. After all, it’s called ‘diet soda’ so it must be good if you’re watching your waistline or trying to loose a few kilos, right?
Historically, research on artificial or non-caloric sweeteners has proven controversial with studies throwing up conflicting results. What we do know is that whist consumption levels of non-caloric sweeteners have climbed steeply so too have obesity rates, with one in four children and two out of three adults in Australia now overweight or obese.
A new study, from the Medical College of Wisconsin and Marquette University based on a more detailed understanding of the metabolic affects of artificial sweeteners may help explain the problem. The researchers compared the results of feeding rats
diets high in glucose versus two common artificial sweeteners : aspartame or acesulfame potassium. It found that diets high in artificial sweeteners changed how the body processes fat and gets its energy and lead to negative changes in fat and energy metabolism.
It echoes the findings of an earlier study from George Washington University, which found that low calorie sweeteners increased fat-producing genes and glucose transport into cells of obese people who consumed them. The greater the dose, the greater the effect. In other words, artificial sweeteners were actually worsening the problems they were designed to solve leading to increased weight gain and increased susceptibility to Type 2 diabetes.
So what is healthier, sugar or artificial sweeteners? In moderate doses, our bodies seem much better adapted to handle natural sugars over artificial ones. Artificial sweeteners might trick our tastebuds and give us an emotional ‘sugar hit’ however they do appear to come with significant side effects and certainly offer zero nutritional benefits. We all need a little sweetness in our lives, just aim for sources of sweetness that are the least refined. As the saying goes choose something grown by a plant over something made in a plant.