Just because your groceries don’t have regular sugar listed in the ingredients, it doesn’t mean those artificial sweeteners are better for your health. In fact, there are a few not-so-sweet reasons to give these sweeteners the slip.
With Aussies eating 15 teaspoons of sugar a day, many of us are starting to experience firsthand the mental and physical health consequences of all this sugar – from low mood, fatigue and headaches to conditions like obesity, diabetes and liver disease. Many have sought out artificial sweeteners to still get that sweet fix, while avoiding the sugar crash – but artificial sweeteners may not be the solution we’re hoping for.
What are artificial sweeteners?
First, let’s unpack what actually constitutes an artificial sweetener. They’re synthetic substitutes for sugar and many of them add near-to-no calories, making them attractive to those looking to lose weight. Take a look at a few of the types of artificial sweeteners
- Acesulfame K
Some of these may be sounding familiar to you – xylitol is commonly used in peanut butter and chocolate, while you’ve probably noticed saccharin in commercial jam and even your medicine – it also happens to be 550 times sweeter than regular sugar.
But it’s not all good news – here are a few of the issues associated with artificial sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners known as sugar alcohols – this includes xylitol – are hard for our digestive tract to process. This can cause problems like bloating, trapped wind, constipation and diarrhoea, and can even lead to dysbiosis in some people. Dysbiosis, which describes a dysregulated gut microbiome, opens the door to a host of inflammatory conditions and infections. Regarding the latter, one study shows the integral role the microbiome plays in regulating the immune response to pathogens. Digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome may also be exacerbated when consuming artificial sweeteners. Here’s what to do if your gut’s in crisis mode:
Probiotics and prebiotics: Foods like yoghurt, kimchi and kefir all provide probiotics which are essential for healing your gut. Prebiotics are also important for strengthening your gut lining and stimulating the development of good bacteria – this is essential for calming down those digestive symptoms. You’ll find prebiotics in oats, garlic and apples.
Antioxidants:These are important in fighting inflammation, infection and other gut-irritating microbes. If you’ve overdosed on sugar or artificial sweeteners and are starting to feel the consequences, make sure to pick up strawberries, green tea and broccoli for an antioxidant boost.
When you eat foods with artificial sweeteners, chances are it’s a highly processed product, which only puts your body at greater risk of experiencing adverse effects. Stick to real, whole foods, and you won’t have to worry about this.
Artificial sugars can alter your taste buds
Artificial sweeteners can be hundreds of times as intense as natural sugars, and our brain takes notice. We can end up becoming accustomed to the intense sweetness and, as a result, nutritious, whole foods like fruit may become dull in comparison. Our appreciation for other tastes may also be altered, meaning we won’t want to eat more astringent tastes from veggies, whole grains and seeds. If we let our taste buds do the talking, we cut end up slashing important avenues of nutrition from our diet.
What to eat instead
If you’re in need of something sweet, natural sweeteners – in moderation – can be a safer alternative. Of course, it’s important not to overdo it, because some of these sweeteners still have fructose, and excess consumption can lead to weight gain, obesity and blood-sugar spikes. Have a look at some of the natural sweeteners on the market:
- Maple syrup
- Monk fruit sweetener
But for the most part, sticking to real, whole foods is a good way to avoid digestive discomfort and inflammation. Whole fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts and seeds, eggs and fermented foods all support a healthy gut – so keep the sweet stuff to a minimum, and prioritise these foods instead.
If you’re having a little trouble sticking to your health goals, why not join us for our 8-Week Program? We’ll be ditching sugar and transforming our health. It’s easier to make your goals a reality when you’ve got a team of experts rallying behind you and a tool chest of tips and techniques to manage cravings. Here’s what’s on offer:
- 8 weeks of expert-crafted meal plans and shopping lists.
- 90+ member-only recipes.
- Community forums to share your journey.
- Support from the I Quit Sugar team, plus our panel of experts.
- Mental and physical health benefits that last a lifetime.