Monday, 24 March 2014

Spring Cleaning Health Edition - Giving Up Artificial Sweetener


For many, many years I've been a slave to artificial sweetener.  I've used Sweet n' Low and Sugar Twin (both aspartame) religiously in my 3 cups of coffee EVERY day.  I've also used Splenda (sucralose) in ALL my baked goods (with the exception of when I make something for my kids).  Whenever I've been out for a meal and wanted to drink something other than my usual plain water, I've always opted for diet soda.  And if I wanted to add flavor to my water, it would be in the form of drink crystals made with you guessed it...fake sweetener in addition to tons of other chemicals.  Whenever I've ordered a flavored latte, I've always asked for sugar-free syrup.  When I purchased yogurt, it would be those that were artificially sweetened.  And for years I've been saying I'm going to give it all up and use either natural sweeteners or nothing at all.  But that hasn't happened...until now!!!

Having a background in nutrition science, I've read numerous articles and research studies on the negative impacts of artificial sweeteners.  I've always been the one to say that for every study against something, there will always be one that stands behind it.  But with these sweeteners, there are actually WAY more negative research and I can't help but be a bit alarmed by their claims (which all seem to be the same).  It's also difficult to ignore negative claims that, if you have a degree in science, actually make complete sense.   Here a some of the adverse reactions that can occur from using artificial sweetener:

  • Increased appetite - When you taste something sweet, your body expects that calories that normally accompany something sweet to immediately follow.  When the calories from real sugar (and calories) do follow, your hunger from something sweet is satiated.  When calories do not follow, hunger remains.  This can result in the craving of sweet and carb-rich foods.
  • Hormonal effects - We're talking about the hormone insulin here.  The hormone that regulates the metabolism of fat.  Insulin is released in response to sugar in your blood.  When you eat something with real sugar in it, your taste receptors respond with your pancreas releasing insulin.  When you consume artificial sweeteners your sweet taste receptors are still activated, tricking your pancreas into releasing insulin when there is actually no sugar in your blood.  Because there is no actual blood sugar for insulin to combine with, your hunger increases even more and cravings for sugary foods begin.  This will result in eating more of the sugary foods you're craving and/or increasing fat stores due to the hormonal fluctuations caused by artificial sweeteners.  
  • Serotonin levels - Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that tells you when you're full.  One of the main ingredients of aspartame, phenylalanine, can decrease your serotonin levels.  Low levels can prevent you from feeling full and can cause food cravings.  
  • Specific dangers of aspartame - Aspartame is made of aspartic acid and phenylalanine.  Phenylalanine breaks down into methanol, which then becomes formaldehyde (the stuff lab specimens and dead bodies are stored in).  Formaldehyde is a toxin that accumulates in our body and when levels get too high, it can result in so many dangerous effects including disrupting your immune and central nervous system, headaches, insomnia, blurred vision, dizziness, numbness, ringing in the ears, memory loss, depression, anxiety, digestive problems, seizures, loss of energy, heart palpitations, joint pain, ear ringing and change of taste.  The liver deals with toxins and when too much toxins exist and the liver can no longer handle it, it breaks down.  I do realize that even fresh food can carry toxins into the body, but I don't want to deliberately add more toxins because every bit counts.

Since it's spring and time for some spring cleaning, I've decided to clean up my body a bit and stop using fake sweeteners.  So far it's going way better than I had even hoped for (I truly felt addicted to them).  I've been adding a tablespoon of either soy or almond vanilla "milk" to my coffee which actually gives it a really nice flavor without the overpowering sweetness and chemical taste that sweeteners give (you really notice it when you stop using them).  And to my baked goods I've been adding either maple syrup or brown sugar and just decreasing the amount called for.  I was never a huge diet soda drinker and only once every few months would I add drink crystals to my water, so I knew giving those two things up wouldn't be a problem at all.  I haven't visited Starbuck's recently, but I know that when I do I'll either ask for less of the real syrup or have my latte made with soy milk.  

One thing that I have really noticed is that I don't have that super strong craving for something sweet in the afternoon like I used to, which is a nice change.  And I'm really hoping that all the headaches and migraines I tend to get a lot of will stop occurring as well.   

While artificial sweeteners receive tons of attention in the nutrition world, the jury is still out on their exact effect.  But I know I can't go wrong with removing something from my diet that's made in a lab.  I'm not saying I'll never consume any form of sweetener ever again, I am saying if I do, it will be a once in while thing. 

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