Our relation with sweeteners is such a bitter-sweet one – we can neither really live without them nor can we stop worrying about controlling their proportions in our diet. Thanks to the advanced technology and media, most people these days are aware of the ill-effects of sugar. No wonder that most health-conscious people prefer artificial sweeteners over plain sugar as these artificial sweeteners claim to have low or zero calories. But does that make them good enough? This is one of the most important questions that you should ask yourself before choosing to use these artificial sweeteners in your tea, coffee, and foods.
Of late, the concept that consumption of high-calorie foods contribute to weight gain has become quite popular. So, people are led to believe in the simple calculated solution of cutting calorie off the diet to keep a check on their weight. It’s a common perception that when there are zero calories, the harm caused to your body is zero. But is it really so? And do the artificial sweeteners really have zero or low calories as most claim to be?
Let’s get the basics right
Amidst all the prevalent concepts (some of which are yet to be verified), let’s get the basics right. In order to understand the significance of calories and its relation with weight gain, we must know what calories actually are. A calorie is the unit of heat energy. When one molecule of the consumed food is burnt in the process of cellular digestion, a certain amount of heat is released. This heat is the energy that the body gets out of the food consumed, and it is measured by the unit of calorie. So, this does not necessarily mean that high-calorie foods increase weight right away. However, this might happen if the lifestyle is sedentary and the body really does not have much to do to utilize the energy of the entire amount of food consumed. So, the food is completely broken and absorbed according to the lifestyle practices and immediate need of the body, and when there is excess amount of food in the body, it is stored in the form of fat. However, cutting calories off the diet can also lead to weight gain which is equally or might be even more harmful than just piling up fat. Low-calorie foods produce less energy when digested in the body. This means that sufficient energy for carrying out the various fundamental functions is not given to the body. As a consequence, the body may not even be able to break the food completely, encouraging fat accumulation.
The Practical Analysis
A number of observational studies from the past have confirmed that instead of helping in weight loss, people who consumed artificial sweeteners on a regular basis ran a higher risk of serious health issues such as unhealthy weight gain, obesity, diabetes mellitus and heart problems. In a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the researchers analyzed data from 37 studies on artificial sweeteners, following 400,000 plus people over a period of 10 years. They found out that the artificial sweeteners were not of much help when it comes to the question of weight management. Surprisingly, these products did not behave very differently compared to the normal sugar, when inside the body.
Sugar is already known to be eight times more addictive than cocaine (according to some studies) and also to produce exactly same effects on the nervous system as cocaine does. Such revelations compelled sugar to end up in the blacklist of our diet charts. The artificial sweeteners provide the same taste as that of original sugar that again tricks the nervous system into providing a similar sensation. Therefore, these artificial sweeteners do not help get rid of the sugar addiction. What is even worse about this aspect is that we come under the impression that these sugar substitutes are with low calories, thus earning ourselves a license to indulge in more of sweet foods. This, in turn, forms a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break.
Artificial sweeteners slow down your metabolism and make you hungry more often. Thus, you not only burn fewer calories but even crave for more starchy and sugary foods like sweets, pasta etc. As you feel hungry more often, you tend to eat more food (particularly carbs), which causes weight gain. Artificial sweeteners pose a substantial threat to your microbiome that is crucial for absorption of nutrients. They chemically interfere with the balance of the natural intestinal flora, thus causing hindrance in their proper functioning. When you have a disturbed gut flora, your body is not able to absorb the nutrients properly.
Thus, cutting back on all or any sweetener is probably a good idea whether you want to lose weight or not. But if you must take such sweeteners, have a fitness strategy that doesn’t focus just on diet and calories but takes other factors into account too such as physical activity, medications (if any), health goals etc to ensure you get the desired results from your endeavors.