Guest Post by Heather Rudalavage, RD
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that many people turn to when they are attempting to lose weight. And, it is one of the top researched food ingredients of all time.
The theory is that since it contains zero calories, you can consume your favorite sweetened beverages without the guilt or weight gain. Unfortunately, the jury still seems to be out on that theory. What many consumers may not realize is that some findings suggest that, not only does substituting aspartame for sugar not lead to weight loss, but it can actually lead to weight gain over long term use. The opposite of the desired effect.
Recent studies suggest that artificial sweetener users don’t lose any more weight or weigh any less than those who use sugar, long term. That’s a fact. Wondering why? There are a few theories:
- Theory 1: Using artificial sweetener causes people to overcompensate in other ways. For example, ordering an extra value meal at the drive through and thinking it’s okay because you are getting a diet soda to drink. Sorry, but this math just doesn’t add up because a typical extra value meal with a quarter pounder and fries contains over 800 calories without a drink. Having a diet soda is a mute point
- Theory 2: Using artificial sweetener attunes our palettes to expect things to taste cloyingly sweet. Once your tongue is used to that super sweet taste of an artificial sweetener, a piece of raw fruit may seem bland. So, we eat less whole foods and begin to crave more processed and sweetened foods.
- Theory 3: High consumers of artificial sweeteners also tend to be chronic dieters or those who restrict their (or their child’s) caloric intake. Since chronic dieters tend to gain weight over the long term, the fact that they also use artificial sweeteners can skew the data. In other words, it can look like aspartame is causing weight gain, but actually it is chronic dieting or caloric restriction.
- Theory 4: Using artificial sweeteners, specifically aspartame, stimulates your appetite and causes you to crave carbohydrates later. How does that happen? The reason comes down to the chemical makeup of aspartame. Aspartame provides over half of its content in a form of a phenylalanine isolate (aka sweet poison). Simply put, when your tongue tastes something sweet, your brain expects there to be accompanying calories to go along with the sweetness. When the calories don’t come, your brain is confused and sends out signals to cause you to crave carbohydrates. The ongoing cycle of disastrous eating habits all starting from fake sugar!
So, if you are left wondering which sweeteners are safe and which are not, here is the general rule of thumb: The USDA recommends using all sweeteners in moderation, this includes both natural sugar and artificial sweeteners. Natural sugar, honey and stevia are all safe to use but should still be used in moderation. If you have a medical condition such as diabetes the benefits of using an artificial sweetener in controlling blood sugar, may outweigh any negative side effects or risks.
What is a sweet tooth to do? If you must drink your coffee sweetened, consider cutting back on the amount of coffee you consume or switch to tea. Next time you are looking for a fizzy drink, feel good about your bubbles by mixing your favorite 100% juice with some seltzer for a peppy drink without the guilt. Or, if you are looking for a sweet treat that your kids won’t refuse, try dipping fruit chunks in melted dark chocolate.
You will find an equal amount of studies that say aspartame and other artificial sweeteners such as sacharin are safe and say aspartame is harmful, but in the end, the one concept we know to be a true is that the less processed, and closer to nature a food is the better it is for your health.
Read more from Intuitive Nutrition.
What are your thoughts on aspartame? Do you have any sweet tooth satisfiers? Share them below!