Like me, you may have heard for years to avoid diet soda and artificial sweeteners if you want to lose weight, but you didn’t understand why. Isn’t avoiding the calories from sugar a good thing?
There is now evidence that artificial sweeteners may be a major cause of obesity and it has to do with how these sweeteners affect the bacteria in your gut called your gut microbiome. Artificial sweeteners in the form of aspartame, sucralose and saccharin, are found in many foods to enhance the taste. However, they can also make us crave more food, the exact thing we are trying to avoid.
When food manufacturers remove the fat and advertise a product as “low fat” or “low calorie,” they must enhance the flavor with a sweetener because the fat or real sugar provides a satisfying taste. Therefore, you may perceive that you are eating something healthy (with the help of savvy marketing), but in reality you are eating a substance that is disturbing your important gut microbiome and eating something that is actually causing you to feel more hungry.
There has not been much research conducted on the health effects of artificial sweeteners; however, the most comprehensive study has revealed some alarming results. A recent article in Scientific American states it like this, “An Israeli study suggests that artificial sweeteners enhance the populations of gut bacteria that are more efficient at pulling energy from our food and turning that energy into fat. In other words, artificial sweeteners may favor the growth of bacteria that make more calories available to us, calories that can then find their way to our hips, thighs and midriffs, says Peter Turnbaugh of the University of California, San Francisco, an expert on the interplay of bacteria and metabolism.” Here is a link to the article about artificial sweeteners.
This change in our gut bacteria caused by artificial sweeteners not only causes us to extract more energy from our food and store it, it also has an effect on the hormone Leptin, which regulates our appetite and causes us to feel hungrier. Here is a link to another research article called “Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota.”
The bottom line is, we now have evidence that artificial sweeteners may cause the very condition they are trying to prevent in ways we never realized. One of our Live Healthy Principles is to eat “real food.” Artificial sweeteners are added to diet drinks and processed foods, so if you follow that principle you shouldn’t have a problem. And, it is okay to splurge every now and then, but daily intake of artificial sweeteners will likely have a negative impact on your gut, your weight, and your health.