Artificial Sweeteners and Weight Loss
Artificial sweeteners provide desirable sweetness without the added calories. There are different brands and types of artificial sweeteners. Some of the most common brand names are Stevia, Sweet and Low, Truvia, Splenda, and Equal.
Sweeteners contain zero calories because our bodies can not metabolize these sugars. In other words, our body does not digest or absorb them.
Artificial sweeteners are at least double in sweetness than regular sugar. For example, saccharin (a type of artificial sweetener) is about 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar. And contains no calories.
However, even though artificial sweeteners are calorie-free, research shows that these sweeteners have controversial health effects in the long run.
Additionally, the chemical changes that occur in the body as you consume these sugar substitutes change your taste buds. Long term use of alternative sweeteners can cause sweet foods and beverages to taste less sweet because of these changes. You become so used to eating these artificial sweeteners that when you have something without it, you notice a drastic difference.
And interestingly, studies have shown that those who use artificial sweeteners do not end up losing weight compared to those that consume regular sugar. This feels counterintuitive because the main reason people use artificial sweeteners is to reduce their body weight.
However, artificial sweeteners can be consumed in moderation for those that want a low-calorie sweetener occasionally. The U.S. FDA stated that sugar substitutes are safe when consumed within the Acceptable Daily Intake.
Are artificial sweeteners a good alternative for regular sugar?
If I were to rank sweeteners from best to worst, it would look something like this:
- Maple syrup
- Monk fruit
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Artificial sweeteners
When you have the option and it makes sense in the situation, substituting one of the less refined choices like honey, maple syrup, and dates is a better choice. However, it can be challenging to use healthier options without changing the taste and texture of the food you’re trying to make. And this is not to demonize foods, but knowledge is power and being able to make an informed decision is always better.
My personal opinion is to learn to eat your favorite sweet foods in moderation instead of trying to substitute them with an artificial sweetener. Many people believe that just because they are using a zero-calorie option they can consume it more often. This is why most people who eat “fat-free” and “sugar-free” options may end up gaining weight instead of losing weight. At the end of the day, the only way people lose weight is if they are consuming less calories and/or increasing their exercise.
I will say that I do enjoy a diet drink every once in a while like a diet soda or other soft drinks. These drinks are loaded with added sugar so I try to reduce that by opting for a diet drink, occasionally!
However, if you are someone who eats and drinks lots of sugar sweetened foods, then working on reducing the consistency and quantity of these foods will be especially helpful. The effect on weight, heart disease and blood sugar when you are constantly consuming sugary drinks and foods has shown, in controlled trials, that it can lead to chronic inflammation which is harmful to the body.
There is no magic bullet, but permanent weight loss requires you to understand your eating behaviors while developing coping mechanisms that have a true impact on the rest of your life.
Putting a bandaid on your behaviors by choosing “low-fat” options is not a good solution. Especially if you don’t even enjoy those modified foods. Finding a balance and being honest with your behaviors is lifelong and it is something that will improve your health for life.
As I always tell my clients, I’d rather you enjoy the real thing versus trying to satisfy yourself with other options that:
- may have lots of extra additives, artificial sugars, colors, flavors
- do not satisfy you and leave you craving that food you’re avoiding even more
I have seen this happen lots of times when we try to avoid the dessert but end up bingeing on other healthy foods. This can slow weight loss progress and it can harm your relationship with food. The more you avoid your favorite foods, the more hyperaware of that food you become.
When it comes down to it, sugar (natural or refined) is still sugar. My best advice is to work on reducing your sugar consumption overall. The less sugar or artificial sweeteners you use, the better it is for you.
This is not to say you can not treat yourself to ice cream on occasion or your favorite slice of cake. Enjoying these foods every once in a while isn’t going to derail your health. As I always like to say, health is more than the food you’re eating and the exercise you’re doing. You need to enjoy life’s moments without stressing about the ingredients in the food.
If you have questions about sweeteners, make sure to comment below!