Millions of people across the globe turn to artificial sweeteners like aspartame in an effort to reduce their calorie intake. Who could blame them? Diet beverages, foods and those pastel-colored packets that adorn the tables at your favorite diner are all marketed as the healthy alternative for people who are conscious about their weight. These products are sold to us as a way to boost weight loss efforts and maintain health, but what if they are really doing the opposite; what if they are doing more harm than good?
Budding research has continued to suggest just that.
A review led by researchers from Purdue University has revealed that drinking diet soda does not, in fact, improve your health outcome. The results of the paper, which was published in 2016 by the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, yielded some shocking results.
The researchers likened the effects of artificial sweeteners to that of the little boy who cried wolf; they say artificial sweeteners actually tease your body by making it think it’s getting real food. When no calories have been made available, however, your body becomes confused and doesn’t know how to respond.
On a physiological level, this means when diet soda drinkers eat real sugar, their bodies may not know how to respond either, and fail to release the hormone that regulates blood sugar and blood pressure.
The report reveals that diet soda drinkers actually tend to put on more weight than those who don’t drink diet sodas.
CNN diet and fitness expert Dr. Melina Jampolis explains, “The taste of sweet does cause the release of insulin, which lowers blood sugar, and if carbohydrates are not consumed, it causes a drop in blood sugar, which triggers hunger and cravings for sugar.” According to the report, artificial sweeteners can also inhibit the “reward center” in your brain, which can lead you to further indulge in more calorie-laden, sugar-filled food.
Unsurprisingly, the American Beverage Association branded the paper an “opinion piece,” stating it was not a “scientific study.” While no independent experiments were conducted, the fact remains that the group of researchers conducted a review of one dozen studies that had been published within the last five years.
However, plenty of studies have found potential risks with diet soda consumption. A 2009 study published by the American Diabetes Association’s very own journal, Diabetes Care, made some shocking revelations about diet soft drink consumption. The team found that daily consumption of diet soda was associated with with a 36 percent greater relative risk of metabolic syndrome and a 67 percent greater relative risk of Type 2 diabetes. Of the components of metabolic syndrome, both high waist circumference and high fasting blood glucose were associated with diet soda intake.
In Type 2 diabetes, diet soda consumption did increase the risk independent of baseline measures of adiposity, or changes to those measurements. The research team also noted that in metabolic syndrome, diet soda consumption was not associated independent of other risk factors. This means that diet beverages increased the risk of Type 2 diabetes regardless of weight or body composition, but the risk of metabolic syndrome did vary based on those factors.
A more recent study, published by PLOS in 2016, also revealed some surprising things about artificial sweeteners. After following a group of sugar substitute users and nonusers for a period of 10 years, scientists found exactly the opposite of what you might expect. Those who used artificial sweeteners were heavier, had larger waist circumferences and more abdominal obesity than those who did use them.
In summation, the research team wrote, “These data suggest that low-calorie sweetener consumption may deleteriously affect visceral fat deposition, a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease and mortality.”
Do yourself a favor — eat real food.