As a blogger, I get sent press releases regularly. Most of the time, they’re irrelevant (I got a lot of financial information because a media directory had mistakenly classified me as a financial journalist) but I get the odd one that reflects my interests and what I write about.
Recently, the subject line Artificial Sweeteners linked to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, and metabolic dysfunction caught my eye. Our book and blog contain recipes that use artificial sweeteners. The internet abounds with blogs and posts that say ‘no’, but offer up little in the way of compelling evidence.
Anyone remember the Gulf War syndrome caused by diet coke conspiracy theory? (The authorities later dismissed consumption of overheated aspartame as a cause.)
Examine.com which offers an independent, objective and unbiased assessment of nutrition and supplements, provides this recent exploration of artificial sweeteners and their effects.
The press release I received came from the Medisys Health Group in Canada. As they say, sensationalist headlines about sweeteners aren’t new. The average Canadian consumes 88 pounds of sugar from all sources a year – more than four times the daily recommended sugar limit from the World Health Organization.
If excessive, long-term consumption of sugar leads to obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, cancer and more, are artificial sweeteners the answer?
I don’t use them in my cooking, but I get a dose of sweeteners daily thanks to my love of soft drinks; Diet Coke, mainly, but also squashes, diet tonic and chewing gum. These are all sweetened with what are called non-nutritive sweeteners (such as saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame and sucralose).
As the press release notes, health implications for them are inconclusive and overall, the ones available on the market are considered safe for regular or occasional consumption. Where the press release says we should be cautious is that they don’t retrain the taste buds, and then can make naturally sweet foods like fruit taste less appealing. There is some research that suggests that artificial sweeteners can increase blood sugar levels and trigger the insulin response*.
The Medisys Group recommends you limit or avoid artificial sweeteners, and focus on whole, unprocessed foods instead, a stance we support at the Diabetes Diet.
MY FEELINGS – I get the sugar retraining aspect, though many of the recipes in our book and on our blog do taste a lot less sweet than their sugary equivalents. The research doesn’t yet convince me that I need to give up diet drinks (though the plastic argument could and should win me over).
As for using it in recipes, sugar is by far the most harmful substance to people with diabetes. If making cakes, puddings and biscuits with artificial sweeteners and low-carb ingredients keeps you away from it, is that not the best solution? We promote low-carb, not primarily as a way of losing weight but of keeping blood sugars steady and therefore making diabetes easier to manage.
Read the full release, including a breakdown of the research into metabolism, sweeteners and losing weight etc., here. You can also read the Diet Doctor’s analysis of sweeteners and which ones have the least impact on your blood sugar control, here.
*I’ve never experienced this as a result of drinking diet sodas.