One of the hottest topics in health and nutrition these days would be sugar and sweeteners. Can a drink that has been artificially sweetened with chemicals be as safe and metabolically inert as initially claimed? Is there really no adverse effect? There has been a lot of evidence brought to the table that artificial sweeteners have an influence on the body – one that may be worse for our insides than the stuff such chemicals are meant to replace.
Whether you have diabetes or are simply trying to cut sugar out of your diet, you need to know whether artificial sweeteners have an effect on blood glucose and which ones are best for dieting and weight loss. Fortunately, all that information and more has been gathered up for you in this article.
What Are Artificial Sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are chemicals that replace sugar by stimulating receptors on the tongue. You may also hear them referred to as low-calorie sweeteners or non-nutritive sweeteners because they often have a negligible amount of calories.
Nowadays, artificial sweeteners are found in almost everything humans can consume, including toothpaste and mouthwash, chewing gum, chewable vitamins, no-calorie beverages (like diet soda and flavored water), yogurt, baked goods, frozen and microwaveable meals, “light” or diet foods, breakfast cereals, alcoholic beverages, and dietary supplements, like whey protein and BCAA powder.
Here are some of the most popular artificial sweeteners that often show up in everyday foods and even dietary supplements:
- Acesulfame potassium (also known as acesulfame K, Ace K, or Sunett/Sweet One)
- Sweet ‘N Low
There is another group of sweeteners that often goes unnoticed in ingredient lists but pose the same potential threat. This group includes ingredients like:
- Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates
There are some side effects associated with large consumption of sugar alcohols, including bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Whether sugar alcohols have an impact on blood sugar or insulin, however, still requires more studying.
What Affects Blood Sugar Levels?
Now, as someone interested in health and wellness, you probably know a little bit about how insulin and blood glucose can affect weight loss and muscle gain. Simply put, the body releases insulin whenever sugar has been consumed, whether it is from simple or complex carbohydrates. Insulin is a hormone that allows for blood sugar to enter our cells, where it can be immediately used for energy or stored in the form of fat.
People who eat too much sugar will eventually develop insulin resistance, which can then transpire into type 2 diabetes and other medical complications.
Do Artificial Sweeteners Raise Blood Glucose Levels?
So, how do artificial sweeteners influence our blood sugar and insulin levels? The good news is that having artificial sweeteners once in a while will not affect your blood glucose. Repeated usage, however, will have adverse effects.
Non-nutritive sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose are 600 to 1000 times sweeter than sugar, and that sweetness can confuse the body. You are literally sending the signal the instant that sweetener hits your tongue that there is a massive amount of sugar incoming. Instinctively, your body prepares insulin to deal with all that sugar—except the glucose never comes. Now, you have a flood of insulin in your system and no actual sugar for it to do anything.
But the impact goes beyond that.
Damages to Blood Vessels
In recent findings presented at San Diego’s Experimental Biology 2018 conference revealed that there is one more negative consequence of loading up our meals, drinks, and even protein powders with artificial sweeteners. The head researcher that presented the findings, Brian Hoffman Ph.D., stated that despite artificial sweeteners having little to no calories, there had been a dramatic increase in obesity and diabetes in populations that consume more artificial sweeteners.
Using a technique called metabolomics, the researchers looked into how artificial sweeteners like aspartame and acesulfame K affect the lining of blood vessels. The experiments found that both sweeteners impaired blood vessel function. Furthermore, there were biochemical changes that influenced how the body processed fat and received energy.
The more artificial sweeteners built up in the blood, the more the blood vessels broke down, and the less efficient the body became at burning fat, among other processes.
Damages to Insulin
In 2013, Splenda came under fire when it was proven by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine that the artificial sweetener changed the body’s response to insulin. Participants in the study were overweight, with an average BMI of 42. These participants were instructed to drink sucralose then consume glucose, and the results were observed. Their blood sugar skyrocketed to a higher level than when they had plain water and glucose afterward. Additionally, insulin rose about 20 percent higher, showing that artificial sweeteners enhanced insulin and glucose responses.
In other words, the body is exhibiting an excited state and releasing tons of insulin into the bloodstream. This is more than what actual sugar would do, counteracting the body’s natural ability to balance blood sugar and insulin. This could have extreme consequences for people with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes since they already have an impaired blood glucose response.
Best Alternatives to Artificial Sweeteners
If you really need a sweetener for your morning coffee but don’t want or are unable to add things like honey or agave syrup into your diet, then you need to consider other natural alternatives.
There are two that immediately come to mind: Stevia and monk fruit extract. Both are 100 percent natural, have little to no calories, and they do not affect your blood sugar levels at all. Stevia can be used for baking, and monk fruit can be used in beverages. These two sweeteners are often mixed with other sugar alcohols, raw sugar, or even molasses, so you should always read the nutritional labels.
Final Thoughts on Artificial Sweeteners
Many countries have declared artificial sweeteners safe to use in food and drink. However, the science is clear: Artificial sweeteners can affect your blood sugar and insulin levels. The long-term impact of consuming these synthetic ingredients shouldn’t be disregarded. If you are trying to get healthier or bring your type 2 diabetes under control, you should avoid using artificial sweeteners on a daily basis.
Now that you know more about artificial sweeteners spread the word to those you know who are trying to diet or who have type 2 diabetes. If you liked this article and want more up-to-date news from us, follow us on Facebook!
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