According to the latest statistics1 nearly 40 percent of American adults, over 18 percent of teens and nearly 14 percent of young children are now obese, not just overweight, and processed foods and sweetened beverages are clearly driving factors.
Unfortunately, many make the mistake of thinking artificially sweetened products are a healthier option as it cuts down your calories. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Over the years, an ever-growing number of studies have shown artificial sweeteners raise your risk of both obesity and Type 2 diabetes — perhaps even to a greater degree than sugar does. Among the most recent examples is an animal study2,3 presented at the 2018 Experimental Biology conference in San Diego.
The study, which explored how different sweeteners affect the way food is used and stored in the body, and how they affect vascular functioning, found both sugar and artificial sweeteners result in impairments, albeit through different pathways.
After being fed a diet high in either artificial sweeteners (aspartame or acesulfame potassium) or sugars (glucose or fructose) for three weeks, detrimental effects were seen in all groups. All had increased blood lipids (fats), but the artificial sweeteners also accumulated in the blood of the animals, which harmed the blood vessel lining to a greater degree.
The results indicate that artificial sweeteners alter how your body processes fat and produces energy at the cellular level. So, while operating on completely different chemical pathways, they produce the same kinds of health consequences as sugar.
The Latest Fad: Nutritionally Fortified Artificial Sweeteners
Despite such evidence, the artificial sweetener market continues to thrive. As reported by Food Navigator,4 Merisant launched a new zero calorie sweetener called Sugarly Sweet exclusively on Amazon in late January 2019, and has also created a brand-new line of artificial sweeteners fortified with vitamins and minerals.
The fortified sweeteners are sold under the company's Equal Plus brand, and are available in three versions: vitamin C and zinc,5 vitamins B3, B5 and B12,6 or vitamins C and E.7 The products are marketed as a "good source" of these nutrients, as a single packet provides 10 percent of the daily recommended value of the added vitamins and minerals. E.G. Fishburne, director of Merisant marketing in North America, told Food Navigator:8
"Consumers are looking to get more out of their foods, including more vitamins and nutrients, and that hasn't really permeated into the sweetener space. So, we thought it was a natural fit with someone adding a sweetener to their coffee or beverage in the morning. Why not have that added benefit of getting a good source of a vitamin in that as well?"
Well, just because something sounds like a good idea doesn't mean it actually is, and that's certainly the case here. The added vitamins and minerals do absolutely nothing to change the artificial sweetener's detrimental impact on your health.
The Metabolic Effects of Zero Calorie Sweeteners
It's important to realize that while artificial sweeteners have no (or very few) calories, they are still metabolically active.9 As explained in the 2016 paper,10 "Metabolic Effects of Non-Nutritive Sweeteners," many studies have linked artificial sweeteners to an increased risk for obesity, insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The paper presents three mechanisms by which artificial sweeteners promote metabolic dysfunction:
- They interfere with learned responses that contribute to glucose control and energy homeostasis
- They destroy gut microbiota and induce glucose intolerance
- They interact with sweet-taste receptors expressed throughout the digestive system that play a role in glucose absorption and trigger insulin secretion
In addition to the sweet taste receptors on your tongue, you also have sweet taste receptors in your gut, which release signaling molecules into your bloodstream in response to sweet taste, thereby triggering your pancreas to release insulin in preparation for a glucose spike (which is what would happen if you ate sugar).
In short, the artificial sweetener basically tricks your body into storing fat by raising your insulin level, even though the sugar never arrives. Studies have also demonstrated that when sweet taste and caloric intake are mismatched, your body loses its ability to properly regulate your blood sugar. Sweet taste without calories also increases appetite11 and subjective hunger ratings.12