The Science on Artificial Sweetners
I feel the topic of artificial sweeteners has become a hot debate lately, and although I've posted on it before, I wanted to address it again.
While yes- artificial sweeteners are calorie free and while yes, there isn't evidence stating their use directly causes weight gain, I do think it's important to understand that just because science hasn't established a direct link doesn't mean that using them can't negatively impact your weight loss efforts through indirect channels. For example artificial sweeteners enhance food cravings, which directly impacts your ability to be diet compliant. They also REDUCE satiety or physical satisfaction and the sensation of "fullness' when eating which can make it HARD to not over-eat on your diet.
The choice to use them or not is ultimately entirely up to you- but it's important to have the necessary facts required to make a sound decision and hopefully this post will help.
Before I get into the effects of artificial sweeteners on your waistline, I do want to discuss the issue of safety. There are numerous reports and websites that claim artificial sweeteners are toxic to your body because they're a chemical, and therefore unsafe for consumption.
Just because something's labeled as a "chemical" doesn't make it inherently bad for you.
Take, for example, lecithin, pectin, guar gum, and propionic acid. These are all common chemicals found in foods and have no reported side effects.
There's no available data on human subjects showing that consumption of artificial sweeteners can lead to diseases like diabetes and cancer. It's safe to say that if you include them in your diet in moderation, you'll be okay. What does "in moderation" mean? Well it's not clearcut. If you ask me, I would suggest that you basically be mindful of how much you rely on artificial sweetness and keep consumption minimal and you should be fine.
(I should note however that because artificial sweeteners are chemicals, the body does not process or digest them properly and therefore they can cause quite the hell in your GI tract depending upon the kind and amount- which I address further down in the post.)
The major issue of debate though is whether artificial sweeteners cause you to crave more sweets and hinder your weight-loss goals.
Some argue that substituting artificial sweeteners for the "real deal" may cause you to crave additional sugary snacks, or cause you to increase your caloric intake at the next meal. EXAMPLE: "I had a Diet Coke with lunch, so I can eat this cupcake for dessert"
So I did some digging. And there's a decent amount of science that will hopefully help you determine if and how to add artificial sweeteners into your diet.
A recent review article published in the International Journal of Obesity found that both calorie intake and body weight decreased with the consumption of artificial sweeteners relative to sugar.
A review article from 2014 observed similar findings, with the authors concluding that substituting a low cal artificial sweetener in place of a high cal version can result in a moderate loss of body weight. Furthermore, it may be a useful dietary tool to improve compliance with weight-loss or weight-maintenance dietary programs.
What's more, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that subjects drinking a beverage flavored with a low-calorie sweetener reduced their consumption of dessert items compared to those drinking water.
However, since artificial sweeteners are sweeter then sugar (200-600x sweeter), over time their use can cause you to have an increased preference in your palate for sweet foods. In this way artificial sweeteners can increase food cravings for more artificially sweet foods or more high calorie sugary items.
Artificial sweeteners (particularly in large amounts) have been linked to increased abdominal fat, digestive distress (gas,bloating, diarrhea), inflammation, fatigue, and headaches, by negatively impacting the microbes in the gut. One study even found that these alterations to the gut microbiome can cause glucose intolerance.
A study done at George Washington University by the Dept. of Endocrinology linked artificial sweeteners to fat formulation. Dr. Sen who headed the study said that he believed low-calorie sweeteners promoted additional fat formation by allowing more glucose to enter the cells, which promotes inflammation, particularly in those already overweight or obese
So what does all this mean? It doesn't "mean" anything- it's just information- because the first step to making a good decision for yourself is to be informed. It's important to be aware of what the science is.
I will say personally, I only use liquid stevia as a sweetener and try to keep anything else minimal. When my use of artificial sweetener becomes too high I notice I crave more carbs, my stomach troubles are exacerbated and I get headaches. A lot. I also feel that visually I look smoother and less defined. My abs wash out. In fact as I near the stage (last week or two of prep) I eliminate them altogether.
My advice is to educate yourself, then do what works for you. Try experimenting with and without them in your diet and pay attention to how you look and feel. Let your own personal experience be the ultimate determining factor in whether or not you use artificial sweeteners, and if so, which kind and in what amount.