Zero Calorie Sweeteners: No Bueno Say the Experts

Once again non-nutritive or “artificial” sweeteners are making the news. New evidence shows that there are negative biochemical changes in the body in response to these low-cal sugar replacers.1

We already know that sugar has detrimental effects on our blood sugar, insulin, and waistline. It is common knowledge nowadays that sweets consumption should be lowered and kept to a minimum. In came, subsequently, those nifty no-calorie sweeteners that promised a similar flavor without all the unhealthy side effects. While initially regarded as safe and approved by the FDA, for some time now research has hinted they are not as benign as touted Now we have even more evidence that they are doing more harm than good.

In this new study, researchers took several groups of rats and either fed them diets high in glucose, fructose, or artificial sweeteners (aspartame or acesulfame potassium). Acesulfame is sold in stores at Sunnett or Sweet One, and aspartame is sold as Equal or NutraSweet. Both are currently approved artificial sweeteners by the FDA.

Within three weeks the researchers found discernable differences between the groups per blood samples collected. They noted that the artificial sweeteners appeared to change the way their bodies processed fat and energy overall. They also noticed that the acesulfame potassium accumulated in the blood and had a negative impact on the cells lining the blood vessels.

Bottom line? Don’t think that switching to artificial sweeteners is the answer. For one, how many thin people do you see walking around drinking diet sodas all day? They don’t seem to work. This study helps us understand why. Also, continuing to drink sweet beverages hinders one’s ability to acclimate to lesser sweetened beverages and foods. It keeps the sweet desire active, per say, and doesn’t solve the problem of cravings. In fact, it can make things worse by initiating an insulin response but, with no actual sugar entering the body, you end up with lower blood sugar and a “crash,” so to speak. The craving cycle continues.

The article ends by trying to answer the question, which is better? Sugar or artificial sweeteners? How about neither? My advice is to ditch sweet-tasting beverages altogether and switch to good ol’ water, the way nature intended.

But you hate water you say? If that’s you, think about some simple flavorings such as lemon, lime or other fruits soaked in your H20. Maybe dilute a favorite beverage half and half and keep increasing the water until you desire the sweet taste less and less. Drink club soda and lime if fizzy is your thing. There are ways to make better choices to keep these harmful chemicals out of your bodies for good.

In the end, if weight loss, blood sugar control, and heart health are your goals, artificial sweeteners have to go. Period.

If this seems unthinkable to you (and I realize for many it is!) come talk to me! I know we can develop a plan to get you enjoying less sugar and more healthy foods and fluids. And, summer being right around the corner, NOW is the time to do it!


Artificial Sweeteners and our Children’s Health

Recent articles have discussed the growing use of artificial sweeteners among children in the US.  It seems, with the increased understanding of how harmful sugar is to our health, especially in youth, a trend towards artificial sweeteners has begun. But is it safe?

Artificial sweeteners include an array of chemical concoctions including products like aspartame, acesulfame, neotame, saccharin, advantame, and sucralose, among others. The most common plant based option is stevia.

What makes these artificial sweeteners so attractive, not surprisingly, is that they increase the sweetness of a food without the added carbs and calories. To many parents, this seems like an ideal alternative to real sugar, especially given all the advertisements about how these no- and low-calorie sweeteners help people lose weight and balance blood glucose levels. In some cases, the switch isn’t even known to parents. Many products tout lower sugar and calories while failing to point out the swap from real to fake sugars.

Unfortunately, there are many problems with the use of artificial sweeteners in children. If you are a parent, it is imperative that you know this information. Artificial sweeteners are far from safe and may even cause lasting damage to a child’s health. Let’s run through the main concerns so you can make an educated choice on how these sweeteners are used, or not, in your family.

  1. On taste: Artificial sweeteners, when used frequently, train a child to expect very sweet foods. On the whole, artificial sweeteners can be anywhere from 180 to 20,000 times sweeter than regular table sugar! If not used in low doses, a child can easily become conditioned to overly sweet foods. Instead of decreasing sugary foods, it may only increase them later in life when they start making food choices for themselves outside of the home.
  1. On weight: In research we see few beneficial effects of artificial sweeteners on weight. Kids, in general, are very attuned to their caloric needs. A decrease in one area usually leads to an increase in another. There are a whole host of other foods included at meals and snacks, and just cutting calories from soda or candy will not make up for a consistently unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity. Touting these lower kcal junk foods is not the answer to our obesity epidemic.
  1. On blood sugar: Artificially sweetened products are often promoted for their beneficial effect on blood sugar. By replacing the sugar, the theory is we should be able to keep our blood sugar more stable and prevent those spikes that can lead to weight gain and obesity. When consumed in small quantities and with a variety of other foods at a meal, the effects might be somewhat positive in that respect. However, when used in excess and at the expense of other more natural carbohydrate foods, the body, it seems, can be “tricked” into thinking there is glucose entering the body. In response, high levels of insulin are released to deal with this onslaught of “sugar.” This can then trigger a hypoglycemic episode where blood sugar goes too low and/or increased hunger signals are sent to get that carb hit the brain is looking for. A harmful cycle can begin in which insulin and glucose levels are not well maintained starting in childhood, and this may eventually lead to insulin resistance and an increased risk for disease, namely diabetes, later in life.
  1. On healthy diet: With this increase in artificial sweeteners comes an obvious fact. We are feeding our kids more processed foods. These processed foods are coming at the expense of natural, whole foods which contain an abundance of nutrition that our growing kids need. Starting at an early age we are teaching out kids to rely on and prefer processed foods to more natural choices. While not necessarily harmful in the short term, many of these foods are nutritionally inadequate for our youth. Even in adults we are seeing poor intake of various nutrients when processed foods comprise a large portion of the diet, and this is likely happening with our kids as well. While meaning well in most cases, many parents are setting their kids up to prefer processed foods with the consequence of potential nutrient deficiencies.

These are the main reasons I strongly hesitate against the use of artificial sweeteners in the diets of our children. Apart from being unnatural, they really just aren’t necessary. They are not the answer to the problems we are seeking to solve. Instead they create risk in terms of adequate nutrient intake and even disease risk later in life.

Parents, instead of resorting to artificial sweeteners, I implore you to do the hard work of teaching your kids to enjoy savory and lesser-sweet foods. It’s hard work no doubt and yes, you end up being the bad guy on many an occasion, but your kids will benefit in the long run. Better yet, start very early on if you still have the chance and set those dietary patterns from the start.


Consumption of low-calorie sweeteners jumps by 200 percent in US children.

Artificial sweetener use among children: epidemiology, recommendations, metabolic outcomes, and future directions.

The problem with sugar-free kids.

If you are a parent having a tough time getting your kids to dump the sugar, I’d love to help. Get in contact with me and let’s see if we can get your family on a healthier path. It’s never too late!