We all know that person, the person who can eat anything and their weight does not budge. Alternatively, we also hear people say, “if I just smell a donut I gain weight”. For many years we’ve suspected that this was due to differences in metabolism or physical activity but new research suggests that this could be related to our population of gut bacteria.
There are many contributing factors that impact our population of good gut bacteria, including stress, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (think ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen), anti-biotic use and artificial sweeteners.
Today I want to focus in on artificial sweeteners. Most of us would use artificial sweeteners as a method of controlling our calorie intake for weight loss purposes. Unfortunately, recent research suggests that artificial sweeteners could be responsible for altering the balance of bacteria in our gut, making it more difficult for us to maintain our weight.
So hold on, you’re saying that “diet” products containing artificial sweeteners may actually be causing us to GAIN weight? Unfortunately, yes this could be very possible.
What Does The Research Say?
Studies done on mice fed saccharine, asparatame and sucralose showed that these mice had higher blood sugar levels than mice that were fed sugar or no sweeteners. Researchers believe that this is due to changes in the gut bacteria caused by the artificial sweeteners (1).
Researchers then tried to duplicate this study in humans. Seven healthy subjects who were not previously using artificial sweeteners were given 10 packets of Sweet-n-Low each day over a 4-day period. After the 4 days, 4 of the 7 subjects had signs of impaired glucose tolerance and altered gut bacteria (2).
What Does The Long-Term Research Say?
Nothing. We have no long-term research on humans showing any potential harm of using artificial sweeteners? Does that mean we should use them? In my opinion – definitely not!
What we have to remember about nutrition research is that it is extremely difficult to get “quality” nutrition research studies done on topics such as artificial sweeteners. Why? Because it is unethical to take a group of humans, feed half of them large amounts of artificial sweeteners and watch what happens over a long period of time (anticipating negative results – would you sign yourself up for this?). So then researchers are forced to do observational studies, where they ask people if they consume artificial sweeteners, how much they consume and then test them for various conditions. The issue with these studies is we can’t control the “small” confounding variables that make a huge difference in our overall health and longevity, such as stress, exposure to environmental toxins, poor sleep, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, etc.
SO – you can interpret these nutrition studies in two different ways:
- There is no evidence that there are long-term negative impacts of artificial sweeteners on our health. So let’s continue using them!
2. Research suggests that artificial sweeteners may impact the balance of good bacteria in our gut and our glucose tolerance. So let’s swap them out for something else that is less likely to cause these issues.
I always encourage clients to make decisions for themselves but if it’s something that is easy to avoid or replace with something else then I will typically err on the side of caution and make the switch.
Artificial Sweeteners are SNEAKY
Places where you find artificial sweeteners that you may not think of:
Crystal Lite and other non-calories fruit drinks
“Diet” Jello, pudding, and other diet products
And many others…
What Can I Use Instead?
Replacing Splenda or other commercial artificial sweetener with stevia is what I recommend (if you’re set on using a calorie-free sweetener). Just be cautious, many store-bought stevia brands are mixed with unwanted ingredients like dextrose, erythritol or agave. I like the liquid stevia because it is the purest form I can find (aside from the dried stevia leaves given to me by a client – if you’re reading – thank you 😉 ). Don’t let the amazon price of this liquid stevia scare you – it is typically $8 at the health food store and lasts a long time!
If you decide you don’t like stevia and you would like a little sweetness in something, try pure maple syrup or honey – a teaspoon should do the trick.
So the moral of the story is if you’re trying to lose weight or optimize your health (which, aren’t we all trying to optimize our health?) then I recommend avoiding artificial sweeteners. The potential impact not only on our population of gut bacteria but also on our glucose tolerance is just not worth it.
Yours in Health,