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Raging Debate: Artificial Sweeteners vs. Plant-Based Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners have been studied extensively, and scientists have always been cautious about giving an unqualified endorsement to these sugar alternatives. New research shows that they were right to be cautious, as these additives simply don’t live up to their promises.

Reducing calories by replacing sugar with calorie-free sweeteners seems like a logical way to lose weight and improve health. However, in practice, the human body simply doesn’t respond as expected. Meanwhile, there are serious questions about the health risks posed by chemical sweeteners. Fortunately, a number of non-sugar plant-based sweeteners have come to the mainstream market, making it easier to avoid sugar without giving up confections altogether.

The Latest Research on Artificial Sweeteners

There are five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners, and you will spot them on ingredient lists in products marked “diet,” “low-calorie,” and “lite.” They include saccharin (Sweet N’ Low), acesulfame (Sunett, Sweet One), aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), neotame (Newtame), and sucralose (Splenda). Although they won FDA approval as a food additive, a number of studies reported findings that indicated a possible correlation between artificial sweeteners and bladder cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, brain tumors, Type 2 diabetes, and dementia.

  • In a study published by the American Diabetes Association, scientists determined that people who consume artificially sweetened beverages every day have a 67 percent increased risk for Type 2 diabetes and a 36 percent greater risk for metabolic syndrome.
  • Most recently, a study published in the Stroke medical journal has suggested a relationship between consumption of sugar, artificial sweeteners, and dementia.
  • In addition, researchers have discovered a troubling possibility that artificial sweeteners are highly addictive. In animal studies, there was a high likelihood that — if given the choice — subjects chose saccharin over cocaine.

Despite assurances that artificial sweeteners do not have an adverse impact on health, many are still skeptical. After all, it stands to reason that consuming chemicals on a regular basis poses risk, and no one knows how consumption over many years will impact long-term health. Individuals focused on holistic wellness generally elect to stay away from artificial sweeteners, holding the food they eat to a higher standard than does the FDA.

The Truth About Artificial Sweeteners and Weight Loss

The primary reason most artificial sweetener advocates choose these products over natural sweeteners is calorie reduction. Obesity has been definitively linked to a variety of serious health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. By substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar, users hope to satisfy their sweet tooth while still losing weight.

Unfortunately, this approach is usually not effective. There are a number of theories around why reducing calories using this method doesn’t lead to weight loss. A publication by Harvard Medical School suggests that people consume additional calories to “reward” themselves for “saving” calories with artificial sweeteners. There is also some evidence that the brain — expecting calories to come along with sweet foods — triggers the body to consume more food when faced with artificial sweeteners.

Sometimes the opposite issue occurs. The body stops associating sweet foods with calories, weakening your ability to identify when you are full. The San Antonio Heart Study found that individuals who drink more than 21 diet beverages each week double their chances of becoming overweight or obese. Finally — and perhaps worst of all — the extreme sweetness of these chemicals is thought to diminish your ability to enjoy unsweetened or naturally sweetened foods like fruit and vegetables. Instead, you experience intense cravings for extremely sweet alternatives.

Transitioning From Artificial to Plant-Based Sweeteners

Transitioning to a sweetener-free diet is easier than you think. Many people discover that once they remove sugar and artificial sweeteners from their diets, the cravings slow and then stop. They are able to enjoy a wide variety of recipes that include naturally sweet fruits and vegetables when they are in the mood for a treat.

Excluding sweeteners from your diet may not be the right solution for everyone. Fortunately, there are some excellent, healthy options. For example, Stevia is an entirely plant-based sweetener, and it can be purchased in granular or liquid form, which is convenient for coffee lovers. Rice malt syrup is created from cooked and fermented rice, and it works well in dessert recipes. Experiment with using fruit, vegetables, Stevia, and rice malt syrup in place of sugar and artificial sweeteners, so that you can find the perfect combination for your palate.

Improve your health and overall wellness by nourishing your body with natural, whole foods that are free from processing and additives. Many people notice that they look and feel better in just a few weeks, and they don’t miss the taste of artificial sweeteners.

This story originally appeared on Well Within Beauty.

Photo: Srdjan Pav

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