Everything has been said about the devastating health effects of a high consumption of sweetened beverages and that is why for years people have opted for the consumption of diet sodas, however recently the popularity of sugar-free drinks has increased significantly. In addition, according to information released by the IFIC 2021 Annual Food and Health Survey revealed that 40% of people between 18 and 80 years of age: claimed to be following a prescribed diet in 2021, either for weight loss purposes or simply to be healthier. Yet at the same time, there has been a cultural shift away from restrictive diets, and the very word diet needs to be rethought. Based on this and according to a report published by CNN, so-called “diet” sodas are being reviewed or outperformed by similar (or even the same) sugar-free sodas. The truth is that it is quite debatable to compare them and define which is better for health, below you will find valuable information to decide if sugar-free drinks and sugar substitutes are suitable.
What are sugar substitutes?
First things first: getting started It is necessary to define which are the main sugar alternatives without calories that are used in the production of industrial beverages. It is worth mentioning that these have the peculiarity of being hundreds or thousands of times sweeter than common sugar, but they do not raise blood sugar levels. Therefore, the most popular common sugar substitutes are: sucralose, aspartame and acesulfame K, they are often called artificial sweeteners as they are made from synthetic ingredients. Meanwhile, others, such as stevia, monk fruit extract, and allulose, are naturally derived.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers that all of these sweeteners are safe when consumed in acceptable amounts. The exception is for those with a rare genetic condition called phenylketonuria – aspartame is not safe for people with this disorder. To determine safety, the FDA reviews data on outcomes such as reproductive health, cancer risk, and possible toxic effects on your nervous system. So while these additives are considered safe from this point of view, questions remain as to whether they increase the risk of other problems and whether they are helpful.
On the potential risks of sugar substitutes:
We are very clear about the position of the FDA, which, as we mentioned earlier, classifies sugar substitutes as safe. However, there are other scientific references that prove otherwise. Such is the case of some recent studies in which sucralose has been linked to a significant decrease in insulin sensitivity, which is believed to be due to changes in glucose metabolism. This may explain why some research link diet soda use to increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
In particular, there is an attention-grabbing study in which researchers tracked more than 66,000 women over 14 years and found that common diet soda drinkers: they had a significantly higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In addition, according to information endorsed by the American Diabetes Association; Although diet sodas and sugar substitutes do not increase blood sugar levels at the time of consumption, there is no clear evidence that they help control long-term blood sugar or control weight.
Meanwhile, studies have also raised concerns that diet sodas, including “calorie-free sodas,” they can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Another scientific study suggests it: this research work was conducted among more than 81,000 women, cataloging diet soda drinkers as two or more per day, showed that they experienced a 23% increased risk of stroke and 29% more than risk of heart disease compared to light drinkers (less than one per week).
As if that were not enough, it has been proven that sugar substitutes adversely affect gut microbes. Although more references and studies are required to clarify this, it is believed that a high consumption of these substances generates a red flag since intestinal dysbiosis is related to higher levels of inflammation and metabolic disorders that can increase the risk of health problems such as heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
Of course, we cannot fail to mention that there are fairly immediate unpleasant effects related to the consumption of sugar alcohols (a type of low-calorie sugar substitute). Among the main ones are digestive disorders, such as gas, bloating and diarrhea. Sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and mannitol, are often found in low-sugar candies, protein bars, and gum. While it has been proven that healthy people can experience mild gas or bloating after consuming foods sweetened with these sugar alcohols; In people with gastrointestinal conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, you may experience more extreme symptoms.
Are sugar substitutes useful for controlling body weight?
At first glance, it makes a lot of theoretical sense that replacing a high-calorie food or drink with a lower-calorie one is the best strategy for controlling body weight. However, the studies are not clear on this. It seems that when we eat or drink something sweet without the calories you normally get from those foods, we are very likely to experience changes in appetite regulating hormones which for obvious reasons are associated with more hunger and produce stronger cravings. This is a scenario that could promote overeating and weight gain.
There is a recent study from 2021 quite interesting about it: which was based on examining the response to hunger and cravings among people who drank a diet drink, a regular sweet mixed drink or water. The researchers found that Obese people were more vulnerable to the appetite-stimulating and appetite-stimulating effects of sugar substitutes. Interestingly, men and people of healthy weight did not have the same reactions, so it is possible that certain populations are more susceptible to the unfavorable effects of these substances.
As a conclusion we can say that it is important to take into account that most americans consume too much added sugar, and sodas and other sugary drinks are the main sources of added sugars in the diet. Finally by now we all know that there are very clear connections between an excessively sugary diet and the most recurring health problems, including heart disease. So for everyone, it is important to take steps to reduce your intake of added sugar.
Therefore, alternative sweeteners and sugar-free sweetened beverages can be part of a plan to cut down on added sugars, but it is vital not to get carried away and never overdo it. Rather, they are an occasional alternative. Just because something has no calories or sugar doesn’t make it healthy or even beneficial in the long run. There is a possibility that these substances are causing metabolic changes that increase, rather than decrease, the risk of obesity and serious disease.
So anyone who is interested in following a plan to reduce their sugar intake, should bet on making healthy changes such as choosing whole grains instead of commercial ones that are very sugary. Or stop adding sugar to coffee and avoid commercial sweetened beverages, opting for water, tea, black coffee and natural infusions. The good news is that taste buds easily adapt with patience and consistency. It is also useful to combine a sugar reduction plan with other strategies, considering behaviors such as eat more fiber-filled, whole plant foods, get enough sleep, and deal with stress in a healthy way. Over time, you’ll find that you don’t crave sugar as much, and that less sweetened foods actually taste more palatable.
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