04 March 2009

Artificial Sweetener. Friend or Foe?

Photo: Katalyst

I developed a Diet Coke addiction some time ago. I had never been a soft drink drinker and it was the day I came home with a carton of DC cans that I realised something wasn't quite right. I gave it up after that, mainly because I was sure that drinking a black liquid full of chemicals couldn't be good for me.

Some time later I started looking into the effects of artificial sweeteners and their use, the Dietitian at the hospital I was working in was a huge advocate of diet drinks especially for diabetic patients, and I became more and more curious as I saw the cans piling up in my patients rooms.

There is much controversy surrounding the use of artificial sweeteners. An intriguing documentary produced by Cori Brackett, Sweet Misery: A Poisoned World, looks at various case studies related to neurological symptoms and aspartame, a very common sweetener found in various "diet" products.

There is much speculation about the FDA being corrupted by the dollars of big corporations when it comes to the approval of artificial sweeteners. While this speculation is indeed engaging, and worth doing your own research on, I have become more and more interested in the actual physiological effect of artificial sweeteners and whether they can help or hamper weight loss.

One study done way back in 1986 found that over a one year period the use of artificial sweeteners did not assist in weight loss nor prevent weight gain.

Some interesting data from the San Antonio Heart Study suggests that the more diet soft drink consumed the higher the chance of becoming overweight or obese. For each can of diet soft drink consumed, those in the study were 65% more likely to become overweight over the next 7-8 years and 41% more likely to become obese!

There is also talk of artificial sweeteners increasing appetite, stimulating overeating and leading to weight gain.

Taste conditioning is also something to be considered when reaching for that sugar free gum, mint or drink. When we taste the sweet flavor what happens in our brains? Some researchers speculate that we learn to associate taste with the calorie content of foods, and therefore regulate our calorie intake through taste to some degree.

So when we eat foods that are low in calories, because artificial sweeteners have been used, we may associate this taste with low energy foods. Our brains are tricked into believing that the sweet flavor means lower calories. In a world where most of us are conscious about consuming less calories this can play havoc with appetite, inducing irresistible cravings for sweet foods.

So what to do? I try to focus on eating whole foods with as little processing as possible. That way I find that many of these diet foods don't find their way into my home.

What about you? How do you feel about artificial sweeteners? Please share in the comments, I would love to know what you all think.

"In real life, unlike in Shakespeare, the sweetness of the rose depends upon the name it bears. Things are not only what they are. They are, in very important respects, what they seem to be"
Hubert H. Humphrey


  1. Here here sister! I gave up sodas as well about a year ago. The thought of drinking chemicals is what got me to do it. I've never regretted it (of course, I do have one occasionally, just not every day like before)

  2. I would recommend a sweet wood stick, but after chewing on one of those for a while it can get pretty intense. Other than that, I'm with Berni on avoiding chemical cocktails.

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