Artificial sweeteners not healthy alternative to regular sugar

Islamabad: The consumption of artificial sweeteners is associated with poorer diet and increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Moreover, many people use artificial sweeteners incorrectly, and end up replacing the ‘avoided’ calories in sugars by consuming more carbohydrates, possibly offsetting weight loss or health benefits. A typical scenario is when an individual chooses diet soda rather than regular soda, or does not add sugar to tea, and then goes ahead and takes a generous slice of cake or ‘mithai’ (sweetmeat) to accompany their drink.

The above piece of advice was given by Consultant Nutritionist and Head of Clinical Nutrition Department at Shifa International Hospital Dr. Rezzan Khan during a chat in connection with World Diabetes Day here on Friday.

Artificial sweeteners usually find a dietary role in combating weight gain and diabetes by providing a sweet taste (which people build a craving for) without increasing caloric intake. Such sugar substitutes are found in a variety of foods and beverages (including soft drinks and baked goods) marketed as ‘sugar-free’ or ‘diet,’ or ‘zero calories.’

“The impact of artificial sweetener consumption on overall dietary intake is particularly critical with type 2 diabetes patients, who frequently receive guidance to consume artificial sweeteners to lower carbohydrate intake, support weight management, and improve glycemic control.”

According to the nutritionist, researchers speculate that using artificial sweeteners may cause cravings for sweet foods, alter taste perception, or change how nutrients are absorbed. And of course, it is possible that people simply justify eating more high-calorie (and potentially less nutritious) foods because they’ve chosen diet sodas. “Artificial sweeteners are hundreds of times much sweeter than natural sugars. These natural sugars can be found in whole grains, fruits and skim milk. As artificial sweeteners are so intense, they can actually change your taste buds and ‘reset’ what you expect to be a normal natural sugar taste. The body then builds up a tolerance, which can cause overuse. As an aside, this is a typical pattern among those who suffer from addictions, and the artificial sweetener is the crack cocaine of the food world.

A small amount produces a sweet taste comparable to that of sugar, without comparable calories. Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of sweeteners may cause you may crave more food and become susceptible to addictive eating habits like binging or overeating and gain weight,” Dr. Rezzan stated.

The US-based FDA has approved five artificial sweeteners: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. It has also approved one natural low-calorie sweetener, stevia. However, the recommendation for the daily intake depends on the product and the body weight the individual has. It would be helpful to consult a dietitian nutritionist to understand your requirements and capabilities before adopting this into your routine diet.

Leading health groups, such as the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Diabetes Association (ADA) have given a cautious nod to the use of artificial sweeteners in place of sugar to combat obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes, all risk factors for heart disease.

Dr. Rzaan said, sugar-containing foods in their natural form, whole fruit, for example, tend to be highly nutritious, high in fiber, and low in glycemic load. Refined, concentrated sugar consumed in small quantity can be accommodated in the healthy diet, and responsible consumption is entirely dependent on portions and quantities consumed. Without mindful consumption, refined, concentrated sugar can be easily consumed in large amounts.

This rapidly increases blood glucose and insulin levels, increases triglycerides, inflammatory mediators and oxygen radicals, and unlocks the onset of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses, she stated.

“My advice would be to use both refined sugars and artificial sweeteners in moderation, as a little goes a long way. If you have a choice, I will also recommend you to avoid consuming artificial sweeteners as they are mostly processed chemicals and you should be using them as sparingly as possible. Natural foods are much more nutritious and beneficial for our health, while artificial sweeteners can be dangerous as they risk warping what is considered a ‘normal’ amount of food for most people,” Dr. Rezzan advised in conclusion.

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