The original intent when introducing low-calorie artificial sweeteners to the marketplace was to assist those suffering from diabetes and those wanting to lose weight. However, these days you can find them in a wide variety of processed foods and snacks not specifically targeted to that demographic.
So, do these zero or low-calorie additives truly help someone both lose the weight and then keep it off? The answer may well surprise you!
A growing body of research suggests that the exact opposite may be true despite all the nice thing marketers want us to believe. It is beginning to appear that the addition of artificial sweeteners to food and snacks is actually resulting in weight gain! In fact, sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame that purport to aid the diabetic and dieter alike in reducing caloric intake often found in natural sweeteners are causing a chemical reaction in the body that accomplishes just the opposite.
One of the main cause of this dilemma is the way in which the body assimilates the artificial sweetener when ingested. The two amino acids that comprise nearly 90 percent of aspartame (phenylalanine and aspartic acid) are known to rapidly stimulate the release of insulin and leptin in the body. So quiet your mind, don’t get over-excited right away, and reflect. These two hormones are intricately involved in affecting satiation, as well as fat storage. They are also the primary hormones that regulate your metabolism levels.
As a result, even though you’re no longer ingesting excess calories present in sugar, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame can still raise your insulin and leptin levels, thus increasing the likelihood that you will gain weight instead of losing it. The evidence is mounting that elevated levels of both insulin and leptin are the driving force behind health issues such as obesity, diabetes and a number of other chronic disease epidemics.
Science has discovered that, if your body is exposed to an excessive amount of leptin over a period of time, your body will become resistant to it. This is also the case regarding insulin levels. Once this occurs, your body no longer reacts to the hormonal messages informing it to cease eating, to burn fat and to maintain healthy levels of sensitivity to those sweet tastes in your taste buds.
The result of this is apparent: You continue to feel hungry, you, in turn, consume greater quantities of sweets loaded with artificial sweeteners and your body reacts by storing the fat. Continue on this merry-go-round long enough and you may never get off! I know; I felt so overweight, I even started my own business, hoping that working really hard would do the trick.
It is also apparent that, should your body begin to experience leptin resistance, it can cause an increase in the amount of visceral fat. All of this in combination can spiral your body into a vicious cycle of an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and more.
The short story: Artificial sweeteners can actually contribute to weight gain!
More and more people are using artificial sweeteners as a means to lose weight. However, the incredible irony here is that virtually all studies that have been careful to examine the effectiveness of these sweeteners are coming to the same conclusion: those who use artificial sweeteners on a consistent basis gain more weight than those who consume foods and snacks containing natural sugars. So different from what marketers want to make us believe.
The common sense conclusion would lead one to believe that artificial sweeteners are causing the exact opposite of what we would hope for. The potential proof in this pudding is seen in the rapid addition of artificial sweeteners to the food chain over the last three decades and the directly paralleled explosion of obesity and diabetes cases. The fact is, instead of the addition of sucralose and aspartame helping in losing weight, they have evidently accomplished just the opposite!
The amazing connection between sweeteners and an increased hunger level can be traced in medical literature going back at least two decades. Two studies in particular documented a definite link between artificial sweeteners and an increased level of hunger. When this occurs, weight gain is a certainty so use your creativity to deal with all this!
As has already been pointed out, phenylalanine and aspartic acid can stimulate the release of insulin and leptin, both of which are integrally impacting the mechanism of satiety, or the level in which the body ‘feels’ satisfied food-wise. It has also been discovered that increased levels of phenylalanine can also lower important neurotransmitters such as serotonin, another hormone that influences satiety. By decreasing the level of serotonin in the body, it can also reduce the feeling of satiety, potentially leading to over-eating or, in extreme cases, binge eating.
A study conducted on college students by introducing high-intensity artificial sweetener consumption produced no evidence that artificial sweetener use was associated with a decrease in their overall sugar intake as well. This indicates a propensity to perpetuate a craving for sweets and resulted in overall sugar consumption increasing. It also revealed the potential for future problems controlling weight gain.
In fact, another study revealed that the consumption of diet soft drinks actually increased the likelihood of serious weight gain issues. This compared to a lesser degree of weight gain when consuming regular sodas not sweetened with artificial sugars. It was discovered that, for each diet soft drink consumed per day, there was a 65 percent likelihood that the participant would experience weight gain in the next seven to eight years. They were also 41 percent more likely to become obese than those who drank regular soda.
It was even found that, in tests done on lab rats, the ones fed artificially sweetened liquids consumed more high-calorie foods than did rats fed high calorie naturally sweetened liquids. Scientists contributed this discovery to the possibility that the rats fed the artificially sweetened liquids had their natural ability to compensate for calories present in the food disrupted by the chemical reaction in their systems influenced by the ingestion of artificial sweeteners.
To take all of this to a deeper level, and as was pointed out earlier regarding the effect on serotonin levels, a more recent study uncovered a connection between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and a neurobiological reaction of sugar cravings that affected the energy level in the body. Unlike glucose or sucrose that naturally occur and decrease the energy intake at the test meal, artificial sweeteners actually enhanced the appetite of those tested.
This suggests that the introduction of natural sweeteners into the body is responsible for not only the correct level of satiety, unlike the introduction of artificial sweeteners, but also keeps the body properly balanced when affecting energy levels and weight gain issues. On the other hand, artificial sweeteners created the exact opposite, stimulating the hunger signals sent to the brain, resulting in a desire to over-eat because the participant has yet to feel satiated.
The mounting evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners not only discourage the sense of satiety, they contribute to over-eating and the resulting weight gain problem. It appears that artificial sweeteners, by virtue of their sweetness to the taste buds, actually increases the sugar craving, as well as sugar dependence, all culminating in the opposite effect desired by avoiding natural sugar.
The conclusion is obvious: As long as we introduce artificial sweeteners into our bodies, the mounting evidence suggests that we are only making the problem worse. Increasingly, our addiction to sweet flavors is triggering a complex set of biological systems, pathways, and mechanisms that in the end leads to issues such as excessive weight gain, whether that flavor contains calories or not.
In the end, the research tells us that artificial sweeteners are nothing more than a smoke screen when it comes to being a dieter’s aid. Contrary to what the marketing campaigns claim in the face of this evidence, low- or no-calorie artificial sweeteners are more likely to cause you to pack on the pounds than to lose them.