Invariably when I give my new patient seminar the question about whether or not to use artificial sweeteners comes up. It is certainly a very valid question and one that perplexes many people.
For decades, researchers have attempted to sort out the facts about artificial sweeteners. Are they safe? Are they healthy? Do they help people lose weight? Gain weight? Do they cause cancer? I suppose in a perfect world, the answer would be to avoid any and all food products which are chemically modified or highly processed in some way. But this would mean it would be better to eat “natural” sugar. If only it were that simple but in fact, the question of whether or not to use artificial sweeteners in the place of sugar is complicated.
For the most part, research has concluded that artificial sweeteners do not cause cancer in humans nor should they pose a problem when someone is trying to lose weight.
It is only recently that there have been some new research studies which suggest that perhaps, in some people, the sweet sensation produced from artificial sweeteners stimulates an anticipatory response from the body causing a rise in insulin. This can be a problem because while insulin serves to lower blood sugar, it can stimulate hunger, and directly promote the storage of fat.
The question about whether or not artificial sweeteners contribute to the formation of cancer seems a bit more straightforward than the question about their relationship to obesity. Dozens of studies have been done looking at the cancer question and, to date, there have not been any which concluded that artificial sweeteners contribute to cancer in humans. At one time it was thought that saccharin (sweet n low) caused bladder cancer in animals but that has since been refuted by additional follow up studies.
In regards to the data about weight loss, . . .
One of the concerns I have about the research world is who is funding these studies. If one stands to gain financially depending on the outcome of a particular study and they are the ones funding the study, this is a conflict of interest. There needs to be independent researchers looking at our food products and not researchers who are being supported in some way by big business/industry. The food industry has very powerful lobbying power and can play a significant role influencing our congressional leaders who sit on various committees in charge of creating guidelines, appointing FDA leaders, etc. In truth, our nation finds itself in almost the very same predicament as we were faced when tobacco companies put up a huge fight against putting labeling on cigarette packages, banning smoking in public, and raising awareness about the health consequences of smoking.
Understanding the facts about the harmful effects of consuming excess sugar and starch on the human body, I recommend patients focus on the greatest threat to their health first, which is to improve the dysfunction of fat and ultimately decrease the amount of excess fat they carry. Because we know that excess sugar and starch can contribute to the creation of “sick fat” and that, without a doubt, “sick fat” can contribute to a multitude of diseases, decrease one”s quality of life, and shorten one”s life expectancy, I target my recommendations at minimizing excess sugar and starch, even if that means utilizing an artificial sweetener in moderation.
Stay tuned for the next blog which will have Part 2 of this series, including more specifics about the leading artificial sweeteners and an explanation of sugar alcohols.
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