Artificial sweeteners are produced in a laboratory and contain no calories or carbohydrates, so they are unable to raise your blood sugar. They are quite a bit sweeter than regular sugar, so a lot less is needed to sweeten foods and drinks.
These are the most common types of artificial sweeteners you will find:
Aspartame is found in brands such as Equal and Nutrasweet. It is approximately 200 times sweeter than table sugar and is currently the most widely used artificial sweetener there is. It’s created by combining aspartic acid and phenylalanine (two separate amino acids). Sucralose is found in Splenda. It is typically used in low calorie foods such as gum, candy and pop. It is very hard for the body to break sucralose down, so you are able to ingest it without the added calories. Acesulfame potassium is very similar to aspartame as it’s 200 times sweeter than sugar and as with sucralose, it is not absorbed well by the body. This sweetener is typically combined with another sweetener, because of its strong after-taste. It is typically found in sugar-free beverages. Saccharin is the original artificial sweetener. It is somewhere between 200 and 700 times sweeter than table sugar. Its most common use is as a coffee/tea sweetener (Sweet’n Low).
On the surface, artificial sweeteners seem like a great idea. They are calorie-free, they don’t spike your blood sugar, and many aren’t absorbed by the body. Sounds like a win-win, right? Not quite … there is a lot more to the story. While artificial sweeteners appear to provide an innocuous way to satisfy your sugar needs, what you may not know is that they are loaded with all kinds of dangerous side effects that should make you think twice before loading up on them at the grocery store. The primary complaints are headaches, vomiting, nausea, dizziness and stomach pain. These are the more acute symptoms; the serious problems come from long term use.
Most people switch over to artificial sweeteners because they want to limit their sugar intake and lose some weight, but the truth is that they can actually make you crave sweets even more. There are a number of studies linking artificial sweeteners to weight gain. That probably sounds odd, because artificial sweeteners are calorie free. Sugar activates a food reward circuit in you brain. So when you eat sugar, this pathway is activated in the same way as other pleasurable activities. Artificial sweeteners don’t activate this pathway in the same manner that sugar does. Without this form of satisfaction, the search for food is triggered. It activates cravings, increasing intake, and leads to weight gain.
Artificial sweeteners have been shown to be highly addictive. When consumed regularly, you can actually develop a dependence on sweeteners by resetting your taste buds. Once your taste buds become accustomed to artificial sweeteners, it can be much more challenging to reduce your intake or to stop eating them altogether.
High intake of artificial sweeteners can do a great deal of damage to your digestive system by altering your gut microbiota. The healthy bacteria in your gut has a major effect on your entire body. In a study performed with mice, researchers gave water that contained three artificial sweeteners and compared them to mice drinking regular water or sugar water. They found that the mice given the artificial sweeteners developed glucose intolerance, a condition that can lead to metabolic syndrome and eventual diabetes. The theory behind this is that the artificial sweeteners caused harm to the metabolism of the mice, inducing glucose intolerance and negative modification of their intestinal bacteria.
There are a number of healthier and safer alternatives to artificial sweeteners that will satisfy your sweet tooth without causing you any harm. Maple syrup, raw honey, stevia and xylitol are your best bets. All in moderation of course.