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Sweetness With A Sting

Many people substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar in the hope of losing weight, but studies suggest that these products have the opposite effect.

A Purdue University study found that animals given artificially sweetened foods gained more weight (primarily fat rather than lean muscle) than animals eating naturally sweetened foods. Another survey conducted by the University of Texas Health Science Center found that diet soda consumption was linked with increased risk of obesity.

Both the large-scale Nurses’ Health Study and a study of nearly 80,000 women conducted by the American Cancer Society linked weight gain to artificial sweetener use. The San Antonio Heart Study, which included nearly 4,000 women, found that consumers of artificial sweeteners are heavier, on average.

Why do artificial sweeteners appear to cause weight gain? Our bodies are programmed to seek nourishment. It’s possible that when we promise to deliver calories by eating something sweet but cheat our bodies by failing to provide those calories, intense food cravings are triggered to make up for the calorie deficit.

Also, because they are sweeter than real sugar, artificial sweeteners may train the body to demand a higher level of sweetness and to be less easily satisfied. An additional problem with artificial sweeteners is that they don’t rev up the metabolism the way real sugar does, so consumers of artificial sweeteners may be more prone to storing calories than burning them.

Many have also expressed concerns that artificial sweeteners may increase the risk of cancer and other health problems, though research has yielded mixed results on this issue.

Overall, studies indicate that artificial sweeteners are not the best choice for weight loss because the body demands real food. However, eating loads of sugar isn’t a good idea either.

The best solution is to eliminate sugar and sugar substitutes from the diet entirely or consume real sugar but in lower quantities to prevent cravings. If you choose the latter option, use whole organic cane sugar rather than refined white sugar, or better yet, healthier sweeteners such as blackstrap molasses, raw honey, maple syrup, or fruit juice.

Kovacs, B., MS, RD,& Shiel Jr., W.C., MD, FACP, FACR (Medical Editor), “Artificial Sweeteners,” MedicineNet, n.d. http://www.medicinenet.com/artificial_sweeteners/article.htm
Park, A., “Can Sugar Substitutes Make You Fat?” Time, 10 February 2008. http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1711763,00.html

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