All about: Stevia, Sugar, Monk Fruit, Aspartame, Artificial & Natural Sweeteners
Where do I even start with this beast of a topic?
It should come as no surprise to hear that refined sugar is the single biggest dietary contributor to the rise in chronic disease and also leads to nutrient deficiencies. Sugar is liked to: diabetes, PMS, Alzheimer’s disease, ovulatory dysfunction, brain fog, gut dysbiosis, irritability & behavioural problems in kids.
But, where do the noncaloric sweeteners stack up? Are things like Stevia, Monk Fruit, Maltitol, Sorbitol, etc. just as bad? Are we trading one health detriment for another?
Just because non-caloric sweeteners don't always cause a rise in blood sugar, doesn't mean they're harmless. Unfortunately, the sweet taste of sugar or artificial sweeteners is highly addictive.
When the taste of sweet hits your tongue, it immediately stimulates certain pleasure centres of the brain REGARDLESS of whether or not the sweet taste has a calorie associated with it. The addictive nature of sweet tasting things care be challenging to reduce or give up altogether.
One of the most common questions I get asked in clinic: If stevia, monk fruit and artificial sweeteners have no calories, why are they a problem?
Answer: Hormones, hormones, hormones! You release the hormone INSULIN in response to the taste of sweet on your tongue. This changes the whole cascade of hormones that are released in your digestive system even though something like stevia has zero calories.
What are the problems that come with zero-calorie non-nutritive sweeteners?
Stevia and non-nutritive sweeteners on thyroid health:
Aspartame (found in NutraSweet & Equal), Sucralose (found in Splenda) has been shown in studies to lead to high levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which means your thyroid is under-functioning. This can lead to weight gain, period problems, constipation, brain fog and low energy or motivation in life. Hypothyroidism is one of the most common hormone imbalances affecting women today and many women are likely undiagnosed. The chances of developing hypothyroidism are increased during pregnancy, after pregnancy and as we age.
Sweeteners on your blood sugar and insulin:
Just because a non-caloric sweetener doesn’t cause a rise in blood sugar doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cause a rise in insulin. I will say it ’til the cow’s come home… LONGTERM weight loss is about hormones, it’s not *just* about calories. Insulin is a growth hormone! When your tongue tastes something sweet it sends a signal to your brain to release insulin. When your body realizes that no sugar is coming in, it can lead to an increase in food cravings and a high consumption of food throughout the day! This is the mechanism at play as to why non-caloric sweeteners have been shown in research studies to lead to obesity. Your body is smart. You gave it the signal to release insulin, so now it’s going to expect that those sugar calories are coming in from somewhere.
Sugar and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease:
Fructose as a sweetener (oftentimes marketed as fruit sugars), can be even more problematic because it is linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Please note that this is not the same thing as just eating a piece of fruit… I’m talking about REFINED fructose as an additive on your ingredient label.
High fructose corn syrup and agave in particular are two fruit sugars that contain a high amount of fructose. Fructose is nearly exclusively metabolized by the liver, which means that other cells in the body cannot burn it off as fuel. When consumed in abundance, your poor liver might not be able to handle all that fructose and this is what leads to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Sweeteners on gut dysbiosis:
Sugar alcohol sweeteners like sorbitol, erythritol, mannitol and xylitol pass through your digestive system without being absorbed. They cause intestinal permeability (leading to diarrhea or loose bowel movements with overconsumption), because they draw water into your gut. If you have intestinal permeability, you won’t be able to appropriately absorb the essential nutrients that come from your food or vitamin supplements.
Sweeteners for kids:
No, no, no. As mentioned, non-caloric sweeteners are not absorbed in the gut and can cause many disruptions in a child’s microbiome during a critical time of development. Unfortunately, sugar and sweeteners are found in so many foods marketed towards kids! Once I became a mom, this was ever so apparent to me. Read the label on your kids snacks and do your best to choose items that contain low to no added sugars and select options that are free of processed sugars or sweeteners. Kids will always love the taste of sweet, but their nutritional needs for development go beyond sweet tasting things!
I know this information can be overwhelming, but I’m a firm believer that good metabolic health where food cravings don’t dictate your choices can allow you the flexibility to enjoy all foods that you like from time to time. If you find you’re OVER-consuming sugar or non-nutritive sweeteners and you feel like you’re highly addicted to the taste of sweet, reach out to someone who can help get you on a plan to better metabolic and hormonal health. Your long-term self with thank you!
If you'd like to work on a customized plan to suit your needs, please don't hesitate to reach out. 😊