Artificial Sweeteners and Good Health- It’s Complicated!

Artificial sweeteners can work well for weight loss, however, if the aim is to build muscle mass, depending on minimal sugar would be a better option.

Artificial Sweeteners

While artificial sweeteners have gained a lot of popularity among health-conscious people, it’s effects on overall health are still being speculated on 

When people think of losing weight or making lifestyle changes, they consider substituting sugar with artificial sweeteners. The ongoing debate on whether artificial sweeteners are really good for human health in a long run, has put many health-conscious people at crossroads regarding their consumption.  

There are different types of sweeteners, the most common ones being aspartame, sucralose, neotame, saccharin and acesulfame potassium. However, not all of them are approved for use in every country.  

How good are artificial sweeteners? 

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) categorises the sugar alternatives as ‘high intensity sweeteners’ but they do have several pros and cons associated with it. It is yet to be established whether artificial sweeteners are completely safe or unsafe for human consumption. Researchers have figured out that popular sugar alternatives may help in weight loss, control blood sugar and keep a check on dental health. On the contrary, they pose a few risks in terms of disrupting gut health, causing digestive upset, increased sweet cravings and weight gain in a long term.  

In the book, How not to diet: The ground breaking science of healthy, permanent weight loss, Michael Greger shares his deep understanding about the science of weight loss and also discusses about the common misconceptions behind it. The author points out, “Animal agriculture has been feeding artificial sweeteners to farm animals since the 1950s, boasting that their addition ‘increases body weight gain and optimizes return on investment.’ What about [its impact] in people?” 

The book analyses the negative effects of artificial sweeteners and emphasises the changes in the microbiome that occur within a week of its daily consumption. However, the book also assures that once you stop using artificial sweeteners, the original balance of gut bacteria normalises within a matter of weeks. 

Artificial Sweeteners: To have or not to have? 

There are several arguments regarding the usage of artificial sweeteners. Researchers suggest the usage of artificial sweeteners should be dependent on one’s health goals. Artificial sweeteners are good for short term weight loss. It may befit your weight loss goals, if calorie intake is kept under check. 

Artificial sweeteners can work well for weight loss, however, if the aim is to build muscle mass, depending on minimal sugar would be a better option. Meanwhile, artificial sweeteners can help in controlling blood sugar, maintaining good oral health and build up your mood and concentration by helping you avoid the fatigue that comes with snacks packed with high sugar components. However, anyone struggling with digestive issues or gut related problems should always avoid artificial sweeteners and should consume sugar in moderation. 

Making the right choice 

As the debate continues and the effect of artificial sweeteners on health is yet to be established. Researchers and health experts advise consuming both sugar and artificial sweeteners in moderation. The choice between sugar and sweeteners should be based on one’s current medical condition and the effect on one’s body after consumption, either immediately or over a period of time. 

Recently, scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Guwahati had developed an ultrasound-assisted fermentation method to produce ‘Xylitol’, another safe sugar substitute that comes from the residue left after crushing sugarcane. Scientists advocate that, Xylitol (a form of sugar alcohol) comes from natural products and has potential antidiabetic properties. It also helps control obesity and ensures good dental health. Meanwhile, it also has mild probiotic properties for which, it is suggested to avoid any kind of sugar alcohol, if you experience any laxative effect. 

The bottom line is sugar, sweeteners or sugar alcohols have some potential risks and benefits to our overall health. It is advised to go for a complete health diagnosis and seek the opinion of a medical practitioner before adopting any of these sweetening agents to your regular lifestyle.