The artificial debate

By Sarah Selig

The artificial debate
Sugar alternatives are marketed as 'healthy' substitutes but increasingly research is suggesting we need to steer clear of them as well.

The health risks of consuming too much sugar have been widely publicised in recent years subsequently leading to the emergence of low-sugar, low calorie and sugar free products. Increasingly, the research is suggesting that our efforts to cut back on the sugars in our daily ‘skinny-cap ‘ are being jeopardised by the use of artificial sweeteners.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved and recognised six high-intensity sweeteners on the market. These sugar substitutes are ‘high-intensity’ because only small amounts are needed to give a hearty kick of sweetness. Sucralose is a staggering 600 times sweeter than sugar.

Artificial sweeteners are commonly found in carbonated soft drinks, tabletop sugar substitutes, weight management products, flavoured yoghurts and confectionary. The FDA approved sweeteners include:

  • Saccharin (Sweet’N Low)
  • Aspartame (Equal)
  • Acesulfame (Sweet One)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Neotame
  • Advantame

Stevia is one sweetener that is yet to be approved.

Artificial sweeteners and health

Founder of the Global Healing Centre, Dr. Edward Group argues that sucralose and aspartame are the most “pervasive and dangerous substitutes” found on our supermarket shelves today. Group disputes the FDA’s approval of these products by arguing that the chemical composition of sweeteners is inherently toxic.

Integrative medicine pioneer Dr. Frank Lipman claims artificial sweeteners are “worse for you than sugar.” In essence, the human brain responds to sweetness with signals to eat more. For sugar substitutes with no calories, the body loses its ability to gauge how many calories are being consumed since satiety hormones (responsible for producing the feeling of being full after eating) are not being released readily.

Sweeteners and your gut

The consumption of artificial sweeteners has also been shown to alter the composition of the gut microbial communities in humans.

A 2014 study by researchers in Israel found that artificial sweeteners could lead to changes in the gut microbiome and are associated with diseases such as type II diabetes. This research was published in the peer-reviewed Nature journal. A similar study in Canada found came to the same conclusion, these results were published in PLoS ONE journal.

Managing blood sugar

Although it is apparent that sugar’s alternative is also hidden with unfavourable health side effects, efforts to cut back on the sweet stuff are very much encouraged.

In order to avoid riding the sugar rollercoaster, Lipman suggests taking a supplement such as L-Glutamine to stabilise blood sugar levels and reduce an otherwise uncontrollable appetite.

Given the explosion of sugar-free products in recent years, further experiments over a longer period need to be conducted before we can all be confident in what we are consuming.

Natural sweetener alternatives

  • Maple syrup
  • Coconut sugar
  • Raw honey
  • Dates
  • Banana puree

More on the sugar debate from MiNDFOOD

Kicking the habit

Sneaky sources of sugar

Sweet temptations



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