Four ways artificial sweeteners cause weight gain

If you're trying to lose weight, opting out sugar for artificial sweeteners may not be the best diet plan. Find out how to satisfy your sweet tooth the healthier way.

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If you’re trying to lose weight, but have a sweet tooth, you may be substituting sugar with artificial sweeteners to satsifying your cravings. Afterall, artificial sweeteners are calorie-free, right? According to recent research, however, artificial sweeteners can cause weight gain. Here are a few reasons why, that despite the taste, the results aren’t very sweet at all.

1. Increased cravings: A not-so-sweet fact is that artificial sweeteners are known to cause increased cravings and weight gain, and may subsequently contribute to pre-diabetes. According to a study by researchers at the University of Texas San Antonio, middle-aged adults who drink diet soft drinks drastically increase their risk of gaining weight later on. The study monitored the weight and soda-drinking habits of more than 600 normal-weight subjects aged 25-64. When researchers followed up with the participants after eight years, they discovered those who consumed one diet soda a day were 65 percent more likely to be overweight than those who drank none. Drinking two or more low or no-calorie soft drinks daily raised the odds of becoming obese or overweight even higher. The real shocker? Participants who drank diet soda had a greater chance of becoming overweight than those who drank regular soda!

2. Double-edged insulin sword: Artificial sweeteners appear to be a double-edged dieting sword. They don’t allow leptin release — which signals our brain that we’ve satisfied our hunger — that normally happens when we eat sugar. Moreover, even though artificial sweeteners do not cause our blood sugar to rise, our body still responds as though there’s sugar in our bloodstream by secreting insulin. Between the low leptin and high insulin, our appetite and cravings go haywire. Since high insulin is a stepping stone to type-2 diabetes and obesity, we shouldn’t overlook the connection that so many diabetic, pre-diabetic and overweight people use these types of products.

3. Broken calorie counters: According to research conducted at Purdue University, artificial sweeteners may also disrupt our natural ability to mentally count calories based on the sweetness of the foods we eat. Psychologists at Purdue University’s Ingestive Behavior Research Center reported that relative to rats that ate yogurt sweetened with glucose (a simple sugar with 15 calories/teaspoon, the same as table sugar), rats given yogurt sweetened with zero-calorie saccharin later consumed more calories, gained more weight, put on more body fat, and didn’t make up for it by cutting back later, all at levels of statistical significance. This disruption may explain why more and more of us seem to lack the natural ability to regulate our appetite and food intake.

4. Satisfaction not guaranteed: The Purdue University researchers also found that thick liquids aren’t as satisfying, calorie for calorie, as solid foods. Apparently, the taste and feel of food in our mouth influences our learned ability to match our caloric intake with our caloric need. For instance, we learn very early on that both sweet tastes and dense, thick foods signal high-calorie content. Our natural ability to control how much we eat may be weakened when this natural link is impaired by consuming products that contain artificial sweeteners. These foods and drinks prompt us to eat more because they often have a thinner consistency and texture than regular, sugar-sweetened foods. You may have noticed this textural difference in the past when drinking diet versus regular soda or eating yogurt sweetened with artificial sweeteners.

How to sweeten safely

There are many ways to sweeten your drinks, smoothies or recipes without resorting to sugar, fructose or artificial sweeteners. Choose products with xylitol, stevia, luo han, or opt to include cinnamon or unsweetened cocoa powder (i.e. in your shakes) to add taste. Different brands of natural sweeteners can vary in taste so you may have to do a little trial-and-error before discovering your favourite one. The good news is, you will enjoy a healthier insulin balance as a result.

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.