Are artificial sweeteners bad for you? It’s a question that comes up a lot in some health circles, and you are bound to get a different answer depending on who you ask. On the one hand, artificial sweeteners can be an excellent tool for people with sweet tooths trying to lose weight.
Weight loss requires people to adhere to a caloric deficit with some consistency over a long enough period to sustain their weight loss. For some people, enjoying beverages and snacks that are sweetened with low-calorie alternatives can be precisely the tool they need to lose weight.
Studies have shown that replacing sugary drinks with artificially sweetened beverages can result in modest weight loss. This makes perfect sense, given that the artificially sweetened version will have fewer calories than the sugary one.
However, not everyone agrees that these low-calorie sweeteners are doing us any favors. Some experts argue that artificial sweeteners harm our gut health, which can be counterproductive for anyone looking to lose weight. Some studies have even linked low-calorie sweeteners with weight gain, not weight loss.
It is important to note that almost all of the research used to support the claim that artificial sweeteners are bad for gut health comes from rodent studies. We are still very far from being able to conclusively say that the impact these sweeteners have on the human gut is why some people are still gaining weight when they replace conventional sugar with sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose.
Some experts believe that people aren’t losing weight or actually gaining weight when consuming artificial sweeteners because of the other components of their diets and lifestyles. Most people who consume sodas and highly processed snacks full of artificial sweeteners aren’t eating healthy outside of those choices.
Artificial sweeteners may not be terrible, but they aren’t “good” either
A diet coke is usually accompanied by a fast food burger and fries, not a plate full of fresh veggies and a nutrient-dense, home-cooked, grass-fed steak. So it might be that the low-calorie sweetener is a helpful weight loss tool, but it’s just not beneficial enough to counteract other bad dietary habits.
And now, to add yet another piece of evidence to the back-and-forth artificial sweetener debate, a recent study is raising another red flag, linking aspartame to increased anxiety. According to this study, a moderate dose of aspartame – one of the most commonly used artificial sweeteners in diet drinks and foods – led to pronounced anxiety-like behaviors in rodents.
It should go without saying, but do we really need more anxiety in our society today? Probably not.
Once again, though, it is important to note that this is another rodent study. The link between aspartame and anxiety has not yet been found in humans, although further research is definitely needed.
It is also important to remember that not all of these sweeteners are made the same. Monk fruit extract and stevia are derived from plant sources and are arguably healthier than aspartame or sucralose. Real sugar isn’t the enemy, either. In moderation, a little sweet here and there is ok. It’s once we start overdoing the sweets and making our blood sugar spike on a chronic basis that we start getting into some serious trouble.
The key takeaway? When it comes to nutrition, things are never black and white. Are artificial sweeteners helpful for cutting calories and losing weight, or are they wreaking havoc on our guts, leading to unwanted weight gain and giving us anxiety? Most people will argue for one side or the other, but the truth probably falls someplace in the middle.