The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the Covid pandemic, disordered eating and other social determinants helped push these statistics, but lets not forget that processed foods and sweetened beverages also contribute to weight gain.
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One sweetener, aspartame is found in over 6000 products worldwide.
Many people still make the the mistake of thinking that products that have been artifically sweetened are a healthier option than regular sugar.
However nothing could be further from the truth.
The Defender reports: Over the years, an ever-growing number of studies have shown artificial sweeteners raise your risk of both obesity and Type 2 diabetes — perhaps even to a greater degree than sugar does. One example is an animal study, presented at the 2018 Experimental Biology conference in San Diego.
The study, which explored how different sweeteners affect the way food is used and stored in the body, and how they affect vascular functioning, found both sugar and artificial sweeteners result in impairments, albeit through different pathways.
After being fed a diet high in either artificial sweeteners (aspartame or acesulfame potassium) or sugars (glucose or fructose) for three weeks, detrimental effects were seen in all groups.
All had increased blood lipids (fats), but the artificial sweeteners also accumulated in the blood of the animals, which harmed the blood vessel lining to a greater degree.
The results indicate that artificial sweeteners alter how your body processes fat and produces energy at the cellular level. So, while operating on completely different chemical pathways, they produce the same kinds of health consequences as sugar.
The latest fad: fortified artificial sweeteners
Despite such evidence, the artificial sweetener market continues to thrive.
As reported by Food Navigator, Merisant launched a new zero-calorie sweetener called Sugarly Sweet exclusively on Amazon in late January 2019 and has also created a line of artificial sweeteners fortified with vitamins and minerals.
The products are marketed as a “good source” of these nutrients, as a single packet provides 10% of the daily recommended value of the added vitamins and minerals. E.G. Fishburne, director of Merisant marketing in North America, told Food Navigator:
“Consumers are looking to get more out of their foods, including more vitamins and nutrients, and that hasn’t really permeated into the sweetener space.
“So, we thought it was a natural fit with someone adding a sweetener to their coffee or beverage in the morning. Why not have that added benefit of getting a good source of a vitamin in that as well?”
Well, just because something sounds like a good idea doesn’t mean it actually is, and that’s certainly the case here. The added vitamins and minerals do absolutely nothing to change the artificial sweetener’s detrimental impact on your health.
The metabolic effects of zero-calorie sweeteners
It’s important to realize that while artificial sweeteners have no (or very few) calories, they are still metabolically active.
As explained in the 2016 paper, “Metabolic Effects of Non-Nutritive Sweeteners,” many studies have linked artificial sweeteners to an increased risk for obesity, insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
The paper presents three mechanisms by which artificial sweeteners promote metabolic dysfunction:
- They interfere with learned responses that contribute to glucose control and energy homeostasis
- They destroy gut microbiota and induce glucose intolerance
- They interact with sweet-taste receptors expressed throughout the digestive system that plays a role in glucose absorption and trigger insulin secretion
In addition to the sweet taste receptors on your tongue, you also have sweet taste receptors in your gut, which release signaling molecules into your bloodstream in response to sweet taste, thereby triggering your pancreas to release insulin in preparation for a glucose spike (which is what would happen if you ate sugar).
In short, the artificial sweetener basically tricks your body into storing fat by raising your insulin level, even though the sugar never arrives.
Artificial sweeteners are toxic to gut bacteria
Artificial sweeteners also have effects on your gut microbiome that are significantly different from sugar.
While sugar is detrimental because it tends to feed health-harming microbes, artificial sweeteners could easily be considered the worst of the two, as they have been shown to be downright toxic to gut bacteria.
In a 2008 study, sucralose (Splenda) was shown to reduce gut bacteria by as much as 50%, preferentially targeting bacteria known to have important human health benefits.
Consuming as few as seven little Splenda packets may be enough to have a detrimental effect on your gut microbiome.
Aside from the countless side effects associated with an impaired gut microbiome, sucralose has also been linked to a wide variety of other health effects.
For example, according to Cleveland Clinic, when Splenda upsets the microbiome, it also leads to increased inflammation, which then “can contribute to a variety of problems, including obesity and diabetes.”
More recent research has confirmed and expanded these findings, showing that all currently approved artificial sweeteners disrupt the gut microbiome.
The animal study, published in the journal Molecules in October 2018, found aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, neotame, advantame and acesulfame potassium-k all cause DNA damage in, and interfere with, the normal and healthy activity of gut bacteria.
While all six artificial sweeteners were found to have toxic effects on gut bacteria, there were individual differences in the type and amount of damage they produced:
- Saccharin caused the greatest, most widespread damage, exhibiting both cytotoxic and genotoxic effects, meaning it is toxic to cells and damages genetic information in the cell (which can cause mutations).
- Neotame was found to cause metabolic disruption in mice and raised concentrations of several fatty acids, lipids and cholesterol. Several gut genes were also decreased by this sweetener.
- Aspartame and acesulfame potassium-k were both found to cause DNA damage. Acesulfame potassium-k is commonly found in sports supplements.
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