20 May 2024
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Artificial sweeteners: Are they a healthier alternative?

Dr Ross Walker
27 September 2022

For many decades we have seen increasing numbers of overweight and obese people with clear evidence that this results from excessive caloric intake and, in particular, the intake of processed carbohydrates, especially related to the variety of sugars added to food and beverages.

Although many people are sedentary, it has been estimated that our weight is typically related to calories in versus calories out. To give a good example, a brisk half an hour walk burns about 300 calories whereas a small piece of chocolate cake is about 300 calories. Thus, the system is more geared toward sin than it is toward penance.

Therefore, for many years, society has been living under the delusion that artificial sweeteners added to food and fluid are a healthier alternative than using the different types of so-called “natural” sugars available.

Although there is no dispute about the health detriments of consuming excessive sugars, such as sucrose (i.e. commonly used sugar), there has been mounting evidence over the years demonstrating artificial sweeteners are not much better.

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal reviewing the research from the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research examined the cardiovascular outcomes of 103,388 people over the age of 18, the average age being 42 years, of which 80% in this analysis were female.

The study assessed the intake of varying artificial sugars such as saccharin, acesulfame, sucralose, aspartame, stevia and xylitol.

A prior study from Harvard suggested that there was a link between artificial sweeteners, type two diabetes and weight gain.

In the BMJ study, a regular food questionnaire performed an analysis of demographic data such as age, sex and socioeconomic groups along with lifestyle factors including exercise. 37% of the group were regular consumers of artificial sweeteners with an average intake being about 42mg per day.

The end analysis showed that there were 346 cardiovascular events including coronary heart disease and stroke per 100,000 person-years examined versus 314 events per hundred thousand years examined in the non-users. This was statistically significant.

It appears that the three worst artificial sweeteners were aspartame, acesulfame and sucralose whereas there did not appear to be any increase in cardiovascular disease using the more natural sweetener, stevia.

It was also suggested that most of the deleterious effects of artificial sweeteners are through a pathologic change in the gut microbiome.

Regardless of the actual reasons for artificial sweeteners increasing cardiovascular risk, this evidence is strong support for the fact that we should be trying to avoid sweeteners, natural or artificial, as much as possible.

Unfortunately, the human palate has become very accustomed to anything sweet and humans often show ill-discipline in being unable to consume many different varieties of food or fluid unless it contains a sweet flavour. The bottom line here is, do so at your peril.

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