Sweet and Sour! The bitter truth about Diet products and Artificial Sweeteners

 

This goes right back to the beginning of time.

When we start a diet plan, we tend to accommodate sugar substitutes with the intention to lose weight. The concept is simple. When you reduce a particular food group, your total calorie intake reduces, hence you drop weight, however, in the bargain, we tend to consume more of other food groups bumping our net calorie consumption which leads to weight gain and health issues. Does this happen consciously? Well, you will be surprised to know that overconsumption of artificial sweeteners and overeating are scientifically linked. There isn’t conclusive evidence on the fact that artificial sweeteners will cause problems, however, animal trials and limited human trials have revealed health issues one could develop due to addiction and over consumption of diet sodas and artificial sweeteners. Although these substitutes are FDA approved which practically makes them safe to consume within limits, however, there is no real nutritional benefit when it comes to overall health because of its zero-calorie composition. In some cases, over consumption or addiction has been proved to make you gain weight and come in for health problems. Let’s dig this further by understanding what sugar does to our body.

Every time we eat food our body has an insulin response. The digestive system breaks down the protein, fat and carbohydrates into amino acids, fatty acids and simple or complex sugars and stores them in the blood. Insulin opens the cells to absorb the byproducts. How fast is the absorption? Well, that depends on the food we eat. Simple sugar consumption results in an instant insulin spike. It is first metabolized by the liver as liver glycogen then stored in the muscles as muscle glycogen. The remaining spills over for use as energy. Now, this excess if not utilized, goes into our fat stores. The other form of sugar e.g. fructose which comes from fruits is not stored in the muscles. It is directly metabolized by the liver and the remaining is stored as fat if not utilized. So, if you eat a heavy sugar or fruit meal, you must utilize the energy spike as much as possible to avoid it getting stored as fat. This is how we break down sugar. Now, what happens when we replace sugar with artificial sweeteners? Our brain gets a signal pretty much similar to that of sugar consumption which leads to an insulin spike. This happens since the brain cannot distinguish between Artificial Sweeteners and sugar. It gets confused. We on the other hand feel it’s perfectly fine and the calories won’t count which leads to over consumption and the same becomes an addiction. And that, ladies and gentlemen leads to problems. Below is a list of common and popular artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA for you.

  1. Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
  2. Sorbitol(Sugar Free)
  3. Sucralose (Splenda)
  4. Acesulfame K
  5. Saccharin

Now, let’s understand the risks and problems associated with over consumption of diet sodas and artificial sweeteners.

 

  1. Metabolic syndrome
  2. Type 2 diabetes
  3. Weight gain
  4. Cardiovascular diseases

 

Metabolic syndrome is a condition where you develop a host of health problems due to the affect in biochemical processes involved in the body’s normal functioning. It leads to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat and abnormal lipid levels. All of this occurs together. Abnormal lipids lead to plaque buildup in the inside wall of the blood vessels which increases your bad cholesterol. The heart must work very hard to push blood into the arteries which causes an increase in the blood pressure and enhances the risk of coronary heart disease significantly. Over consumption of diet soda has been found to develop high fasting glucose and high waist circumference. Your risk of metabolic syndrome is strongly linked to obesity which may occur with over consumption of Artificial Sweeteners and diet sodas independently or in association with the life style you lead and due to lack of physical activity. As explained above, the zero calories have no nutritional benefit and often confuse our brains to respond negatively and compensate for lost calories resulting in a host of health problems. We don’t consciously indulge in over consumption, it happens due to the way Artificial Sweetener is broken down by the body which could also lead to dullness of the brain in the long run.

How does over consumption of Artificial Sweeteners or diet sodas cause this condition?

When you consume Artificial Sweeteners in excess, the brain cannot distinguish between AS and normal sugar. This leads to an instant spike in insulin similar to that of sugar. Now, because the brain cannot distinguish between the two it creates altered activation patterns in the pleasure centers in response to the unfulfilled desire for sweet taste thus increasing the desire for more sweets and more energy dense food overall. So, technically, you confuse the hell out of your brain which then sends a signal to you to overeat and indulge in sweet and calorie dense foods to compensate the calorie deficit caused by over consumption of diet products. Simple! Daily consumption of diet soda was associated with a 36% greater relative risk of incident metabolic syndrome and a 67% greater relative risk of incident type 2 diabetes compared with non-consumption as per the American diabetes association.

How do we overcome this?

To start with, learn how to count calories. Once you know your maintenance macros, that is the number of calories we require to maintain our current weight, we can easily plan a diet program as per our goal.

Weight loss or weight gain, whichever that is.

Read more about macro management in this article below.

Then, with time, we learn how to eyeball our portions and it all becomes a way of life.  When you put in place a mechanism to calculate and track your macros, your chances of overeating are very slim. Don’t look for food substitutes. Instead eliminate or reduce its consumption. Sugar is a simple carb which provides you with instant energy. One gram of sugar has 4 calories, so if you’re on a 2000 calorie diet, having 5-10 grams of sugar in a day which is 1-2 tea spoons will not hurt. You must know how much to consume and when is the right time to consume sugar. It’s different when you’re a professional and have to maintain body composition and low body fat leaves year-round. Its your job to stay in best shape and to achieve that, calorie counting becomes critical. However, if you’re a regular gym enthusiast, you can include little amount of sugar in your diet. It won’t kill you. Let’s learn how much and when is most conducive to consume sugar in our diet.

The best time is post your  workout. The body’s insulin levels are elevated during and after training which makes nutrient absorption optimal. As explained earlier, for someone who lifts weights 4-5 days a week and wants to remain fit, consuming 3-4 cookies or 2 tea spoons of sugar (5-10 grams) which is 20-40 calories as simple carbs is fine. On the other hand, if your goal is to stay shredded and maintain low body fat levels, the game changes a little bit. Then, it’s all about smart dieting. Let’s touch on that in another article. The shredded diet.

Yes, there is no denying that sugar is the main reason behind all health problems and the body can certainly do without it, however, we are not hermits living in the Himalayan range.  We can sin and indulge occasionally. As I always say, moderation is key and we should learn how to control our enviroment. So, lift heavy, eat clean and don’t forget to make a life while you make a living!

We lift, therefore we are!

Here is a link to an article which discusses the health hazard associated with Artificial Sweeteners.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2660468/

Diet Soda Intake and Risk of Incident Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)

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