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The myth of artificial sweeteners

Queenie Cagulada, October 16 2014

Imagine this: you’re at your favourite diner grabbing a coffee when you realize that it would taste better if it were a little sweeter. You eye the white sugar, the raw sugar and the “calorie-less” sweetener and consider your options.

Maybe you’re watching your weight or trying out a low-cal diet. You reach for the zero-calorie option to sweeten your cup because you’re determined to make the healthy choice.

The truth is, however, that artificial sweeteners are not healthy for you. In fact, studies show they can actually increase your risk of weight gain.

One study from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel found that mice that drank water containing glucose and an artificial sweetener developed elevated blood-sugar levels, whereas mice that drank water containing only glucose did not. The artificial sweeteners were found to have interfered with the mice’s intestinal bacteria, in turn causing the elevated blood-sugar levels.

The mice that consumed artificial sweeteners also demonstrated an increase in body functions that produce compounds like fatty-acids, providing evidence that the consumption of artificial sweeteners might be linked to an increased risk of obesity and diabetes.

The San Antonio Heart Study similarly found that when a diverse group of participants regularly consumed artificially-sweetened beverages such as Diet Coke, most of the participants had a higher body mass index than before the experiment. Others in the medical field have suggested that artificial sweeteners can cause unstable blood-sugar levels and increase one’s appetite and craving for sweets.

Despite the prospect of attaining the sweetness of sugar without all those pesky calories, artificial sweeteners seem far less appealing once we take a closer look.

The purpose of these artificial sweeteners is to serve as an alternative for those suffering from conditions such as diabetes, which require sugar-free options. They’re not, however, necessarily healthy for people without these conditions.

Don’t be fooled by trends that imply sugar-free or calorie-free options are healthy. Artificial sweeteners can elevate your blood-sugar levels, increase your risk of obesity and diabetes and even increase your craving for other unhealthy sweets.

If confronted with the choice between the artificially sweetened or naturally sweetened, remember that sugar-free doesn’t mean risk-free.

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