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Are you planning to use or already using artificial sweeteners (read- sugar-free/ equal etc) on a regular basis for calorie control or managing your blood sugar? If yes, then this blog is for you.

Artificial sweeteners are probably the best invention for sweet lovers like us. Right? Let’s face it. Knowingly or unknowingly we love sugar and we are sugar addicts. In fact, culturally it is accepted to be high on sugar. But since we are getting conscious, we always look for a better alternative. Artificial sweetener comes with the exciting promise of adding sweetness to your food without any calorie load.  What else do we need? Artificial sweetener allows us to indulge our sweet craving without any guilt of consuming excess calorie. But is it okay to use artificial sweeteners fearlessly in our regular food?


The not-so-sweet truth about artificial sweetener

The FDA has approved saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose as artificial sweeteners. These bunch of chemicals offers the taste of sweetness without any calorie. Remember, sugar makes us conscious while eating. But the zero calorie concept excite most of us in such a way that ultimately we end up eating way more than usual. We tend to forget that calorie does not come only from sugar but also from the other ingredients used to make the product. Therefore replacing sugar with sweetener does not make a huge difference in terms of calorie. 

Artificial sweeteners are 100 to 500 times sweeter than sugar. Therefore even a tiny amount of such chemical can stimulate our sugar receptors. Frequent use of artificial sweeteners can over-stimulate the sugar receptors which may end up making us blunt for appreciating most of the natural, less sweet foods such as vegetables, fruits etc. Unfortunately, consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables are not the option but necessity for weight loss, controlling diabetes or even for a healthy lifestyle.

Animal studies suggest that artificial sweeteners can be addictive. During a study, it was found that rats who were already exposed to cocaine when given a choice between intravenous cocaine and oral saccharine, most chose saccharin over cocaine. So does that indicate after becoming a sugar addict, we are going to become sweetener addicts? The answer is probably yes.

The good news is there are studies which ruled out the risk of cancer may be caused by consuming these sweeteners. However, the concern is, those studies used far fewer doses (used less amount of diet soda as a sample) than usual to check the carcinogenic effect. But apart from cancer, regular use of a higher amount of these sweeteners found to associate with greater risk of other health concerns like weight gain, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes etc. 


How much of artificial sweetener is safe?

There are numerous research studies confirms that artificial sweeteners are generally safe in limited quantities. The FDA has mentioned acceptable daily intake for each artificial sweetener. That is the maximum amount considered safe for regular consumption. Please check the label carefully.

 The bottom line

There is no doubt that all the packaged and processed foods are loaded with sugar. Regular consumption of such products create immense harm to your body and lead to lifestyle diseases. But same products with artificial sweetener in the name of ” diet” does not make it any better. The risk of getting a wide range of lifestyle diseases are still the same. Therefore forget counting calories, rather focus on the food quality and quantity. Sugar is not that bad that we think. We are the one who makes it bad. Limited usage of sugar is fine for all of us even during weight loss or diabetes. Always choose any form of sugar (white sugar/brown sugar/ jaggery/ raw-unrefined honey/ other natural sugar) over any chemical like artificial sweeteners.  Instead of fooling yourself with artificial sweetener, reduce consuming hidden processed sugar through packaged food and enjoy limited sugar on a regular basis. So next time you crave for sugar go for a banana/ mango or an apple but definitely don’t fool yourself with diet soda or diet cookie.

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Dr. Soma Chakrabarty is based in Hyderabad. She has 15 yrs of working experience in nutrition. She guides people to modify eating behavior and achieve goals for wellness. She believes in a practical diet that helps people to live rather than survive.

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