In short, they’re not necessary and may even harm your weight loss efforts in the long-term. Artificial sweeteners are lumped into a broader category called high intensity sweeteners, which are sugar substitutes that are more often sweeter than natural sugar, by weight. This includes a range of sweeteners: from the well-known, sucralose (Splenda) and aspartame, to the fairly new-to-the-market sugar substitutes, stevia (Truvia and PureVia) and Lo Han Guo (monk fruit). Most have zero to very few calories. So what’s, the problem with high intensity sweeteners if they don’t contribute many calories or sugar? Get the real artificial sweetener facts below.
Research shows that high intensity sweeteners can make your taste buds less sensitive to natural sweetness (like fruit) and result in more sugar cravings. Recent studies have also shown that consuming high intensity sweeteners and raising the level of sweetness that our bodies expect, but without the calories that usually come with natural sweeteners, may increase the risk of insulin resistance, which can potentially lead to type 2 diabetes. Whether you are consuming a natural or high intensity sweetener, the body reacts in a similar way by increasing insulin secretion in order to absorb the glucose that it believes is present in the body. So even though you’re saving calories by choosing a diet soda instead of one made with a caloric sweetener, it may have a more long-term impact on your body’s regulatory systems. In fact, a recent study found that individuals who drank diet soda were at increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Moreover, tricking your body into thinking it is receiving calories when in fact it isn’t can lead to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia translates to more cravings and less energy. So if you are trying to lose weight, the combination of desensitized taste buds and increased insulin production associated with artificial sweeteners may in fact increase your cravings for sweets and cause a decrease in your energy for exercise.
The bottom line? Caloric sweeteners like sugar, honey, maple syrup and others should be limited but can have a place in a healthy diet–– even one where you want to lose weight. In moderation, artificial sweeteners are probably safe, but unnecessary. If weight loss is your goal, the best way to support that goal is to select plain, unsweetened versions of yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, etc. and add moderate amounts of natural sweeteners, such as honey or maple syrup, or even fruit and spices to jazz things up in a healthful way. If you are currently drinking soda, whether it be regular or diet, try weaning yourself down by replacing some with club soda with a slice lemon, lime, or orange, or drink an unsweetened iced tea and add 1 teaspoon of honey or sugar to add a touch of sweetness.