A lot can happen if you cut sugar from your diet. You’ll lose weight, you will get clean and clear skin, will manage diabetes, avoid a number of health issues and you’ll feel good and energetic. But we know it’s not easy – especially for someone who’s a big-time foodie with a sweet tooth.  And that’s why people go for artificial sweeteners – to retain the taste, minimise calorie intake and manage blood sugar levels.

But what do we know about artificial sugar? Except for the fact that they’re a substitute for real sugar. We may also think that they’re good for health or can prevent sugar spikes. But how much of it is true? Are there no cons and only pros?

Well, let’s find out. This blog will tell you everything you need to know about artificial sweeteners

How do artificial sweeteners work?

The surface of our tongue contains multiple taste buds, each having many taste receptors that identify various flavours. When you eat, your tongue has several food molecules that these receptors detect.

Just like a jigsaw puzzle, the perfect fit between a food molecule and a receptor helps you identify the taste by sending signals to the brain.

Artificial sweeteners contain molecules that resemble sugar molecules. These molecules match the sweetness receptor perfectly. Hence, they give you a taste of sweetness.

However, still being different from sugar, the body doesn’t break the artificial sugar molecules (Only a few artificial sweeteners possess a structure that the body can turn into calories). Hence, you get the sweet taste without additional calories. Not to mention, only small amounts of artificial sweeteners are needed to make something sweeter, making it almost zero calories.

What about beverages that have zero calories?

Several beverages with zero calories took the world by storm when they were first introduced in the market. Consequently, questions were raised about the authenticity and health risks of zero-calorie drinks.

Coming to that, yes, as claimed some soft beverages indeed contain zero calories because they’re made with artificial sweeteners, among other ingredients. But how do they respond to insulin? Do they really help manage diabetes?

There’s some data that suggests that the body responds to artificial sweeteners differently as compared to sugar. For instance, the healthy bacteria found in the gut, change around the compounds of artificial sweeteners. As to how artificial sweeteners help in diabetes management, they offer the sweet taste of sugar without altering blood sugar.

However, contradicting this claim, diet soda was found to increase the risk of developing diabetes by 6-120%. This was an observational study that concluded that most people who are likely to develop diabetes are the ones who consume diet soda frequently.

Other studies do not reveal any association between artificial sweeteners and blood sugar levels. Artificial sweeteners do not raise blood sugar.

So, are artificial sweeteners harmful to health?

Long-term use of artificial sweeteners may form a dependency on people. While some studies do establish a link between artificial sweeteners and stroke and heart disease, these could also be due to unhealthy habits participants follow.

There’s no conclusive research, hence it is best to take artificial sweeteners in small amounts and for a short time, or just occasionally. If you are habitual to it, it is suggested you cut back and use it a few times a day.

However, it is essential to be mindful of how sweeteners affect your food and drink choices. Some food and beverages may contain zero real sugar and artificial sugar, but they may also have other harmful ingredients. Having said that, a snack labelled no sugar may not be nutritious as compared to other whole foods. Fruits and vegetables contain the best mix of nutrients, including sugar the body requires.

Artificial sweeteners and weight management

Overweight or obese people may benefit from taking artificial sweeteners as they may help manage weight in the short term as foods with artificial sugar are generally low in calories.  These can be a replacement for other sugary drinks.

However, your food choices matter. Being low in calories, foods or beverages with artificial sweeteners raise appetite, so you’re more likely to binge on other healthy or unhealthy food items.

Closing thoughts

Artificial sweeteners may be the right choice for someone managing diabetes. But it’s not if you’re trying to lose weight healthily and in the long run. It is the calories that matter. Nevertheless, artificial sweeteners can add that tint of sweetness without additional calories. But moderation is pivotal, it is best if you don’t create a dependency on artificial sweeteners and binge on unhealthy snacks. You can still include them as a part of a healthy diet.

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