Sometimes we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place, or as the literary types like to say, between Scylla and Charybdis. Trust me, Odysseus, Aeneas, and Jason of the Argonauts all found this crucial spot. When we have to make a difficult choice or deal with dangers in our lives, having a hero who’s gone before us helps to handle these difficulties. Sometimes both choices might lead to a harm, although a different type depending on our choice. Then we have to “pick our poison,” as another saying goes. This applies to sweetening agents, either real or artificial.
“The best thing about pie is ice cream” is one of my family’s oldest mottos. Everything is better with a bit or a lot of ice cream on it. And don’t give me the fake stuff I “get to eat a whole pint” of that doesn’t feel right across my tongue. I want a little bit of real things infrequently, rather than a Lot of Not.
One concern about artificial sweeteners is they affect our body’s ability to gauge how many calories we consume. Some studies show sugar and artificial sweeteners affect the brain in different ways. The human brain responds to sweetness with signals to eat more. By providing a sweet taste without any calories, however, artificial sweeteners cause us to crave more sweet foods and drinks, which can add up to excess calories.
That is, if we stoke the flames of fire’s desire, but don’t give it fuel with zero calories diet food, we have to eat something extra anyway. Who among us hasn’t justified the extra cookies with the diet cokes we’ve swilled all day? I always drank black coffee so I could have apple fritters—for the fat, sugar, carbohydrate trifecta. Mind games!
At the University of California-San Diego, researchers performed functional MRI scans as volunteers took small sips of water sweetened with sugar or sucralose (Splenda). Sugar activated regions of the brain involved in food reward, while Splenda didn’t. It is possible, the authors say, that sucralose “may not fully satisfy a desire for natural caloric sweet ingestion.” So, while sugar signals a positive feeling of reward, artificial sweeteners may not be an effective way to manage a craving for sweets.
As we say in the Kitchen, That ain’t good. This means all our eating and drinking of artificially sweetened is just setting us up for the desire to have the real thing.
WAYBACK MACHINE STATEMENT
A 2011 statement from the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association concluded that when used judiciously, non-nutritive sweeteners (including very low-calorie sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, and non-caloric sweeteners) might help with weight loss or control, and could also have beneficial metabolic effects. The statement also points out, however, that these potential benefits will not be fully realized if there is a compensatory increase in energy intake from other sources—ultimately saying that at this time there are insufficient data to make a conclusive determination about using non-nutritive sweeteners; more research is needed.
PLAIN ENGLISH TRANSLATION
Using low or no calorie sweeteners with good judgement and in moderation for a short time duration might help with weight loss or control. However, if we replace our “saved calories” with “other calories,” we might cancel out all our good efforts. Since we can’t keep people in a managed food program and monitor everyone’s calorie intake and exercise expenditure 24/7/365, “more research is needed.” If only there were an alarm bell on the chocolate pudding cups in the ice box, I wouldn’t be able to sneak them out under cover of the dark of the night.
To date, the FDA has approved the use of six artificial sweeteners; each one is far sweeter than regular sugar. They include:
One natural low-calorie sweetener, stevia, has not yet been evaluated by the FDA.
• Stevia is a non-caloric sweetener made from the leaves of a shrub that grows in South and Central America.
• Stevia is about 300 times sweeter than sugar.
• A number of major soft drink companies have begun launching stevia-sweetened beverages, sometimes combining stevia with erythritol, a sugar alcohol.
• There are no long-term studies of the health effects of stevia.
Erythritol and xylitol are sugar alcohols, a class of compounds that have been used for decades to sweeten chewing gum, candy, fruit spreads, toothpaste, cough syrup, and other products. Newer, cheaper ways to make sugar alcohols from corn, wood, and other plant materials, along with their sugar-like taste, are fueling their use in a growing array of foods.
THE LATEST UPDATE
Artificial sweeteners may damage blood vessels
I think everyone has at least one friend who will not eat carbohydrates or sugar in any form, as these are forbidden food choices on their meal plans.
Many modern PALEO and KETO diets all but ignore the foods studied in the science based random controlled studies (the gold standard). Some folks go whole hog any avoid anything white, just on principle. This will get you in trouble later on. Trust me. Hang in there.
THE SCIENCE PALEO DIET: The principal components of this diet are wild-animal source and uncultivated-plant source foods, such as lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, roots, eggs, and nuts. The diet excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils, all of which were unavailable before humans began cultivating plants and domesticating animals. Remember “White isn’t right?” And I said that would get you in trouble?
Notice the big food group avoided here—dairy. One cup of milk, a thick slice of real cheese, and a cup of yogurt meets your calcium needs. An 8 ounce glass of Almond Milk rings up 20% of your calcium, while cow’s milk has 30% RDA. Coconut milk has only 10% calcium. Or 2 1/2 Cups of almonds at 2,041 calories will get your RDA in. This is 5.9 pounds of almonds, or 2 giant bags from Sam’s Club for a whopping expense of $28 in one day.
Probably a stomachache bill the next day also, but this is just “Dr. Cornie,” talking. Remember, I’m not a real doctor—I only act like one when I’m teasing you about dumb diet tricks we all have tried in the past. Now we’ve survived, so we can laugh about it.
Observational studies of modern-day Paleolithic types of populations support a conclusion that a Paleolithic diet prevents obesity and metabolic syndrome. The main ingredient lacking in a Paleolithic diet is calcium, which must be supplemented to prevent bone mineral loss. (I would add also these people spend significant amounts of time in exercise to acquire their food, do labor intensive subsistence work to provide for their families and communities, and have few, if any modern transportation devices.)
WHAT WE DID NOT KNOW THEN
One song with two verses got sung over and over again in the church preschool because the kids couldn’t get enough of it. In education, I learned to read with phonics, the next generation went to whole words, a few more theories came down the pike, and then phonics came around again.
The same cycle of thought has hit our nutrient groups, partly because we’re still building on the knowledge gained by previous generations. While our grandparents may have known enough to get through their world, they were eating out of their own gardens or bought food from those who brought it in from a local farm.
My grandmother’s laundry in the garage had a hand cranked washing machine with a washboard on it. We lived in the city and thought we were fancy pants because we had this tool. It replaced the old double wash tubs in the same building. I counted myself privileged when I got to stand on a chair to turn the crank in the cool darkness of the old place because I was big enough to help.
Now we have washers that look like they belong on spaceships. These can do intimates or work jeans with equal ease, and dry them in the companion contraption next to it. If only they were self loading, I would be in hog heaven. I can still remember hanging wet clothes out on the lines out back behind the garage when I was a girl. Just as our laundry chores have changed, research on food has come a long way.
WHAT WE KNOW TODAY: SOLID GROUND
We now know sugar, consumed in large amounts, increases the risk of a range of health concerns. Artificial sweeteners may also have similar consequences, but through completely different biochemical pathways. So, which is safest: sugar or artificial sweeteners? Is this the rock or the hard place?
1. Excessive sugar intake has been conclusively paired with obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease — all of which are now solidly tied to the overconsumption of sugar.
2. As sugar’s sweet reputation grew steadily more sour, artificial sweeteners took the opportunity to rise to fame. We now have evidence consuming large amounts of these chemicals could also lead to obesity and metabolic disorders.
But “all that glitters is not gold.” Increasingly, I read studies published that reject artificial sweeteners’ whiter-than-white image. I’m convinced enough by this evidence to begin reducing my own intake of Sucralose.
I’m not replacing it with any natural sweetener, just halving my use. I already limited my soda intake to a single serving per day for bone density health, so I won’t miss those. I’ve added decaffeinated herb teas to my iced tea mix for extra sweet flavor, so the less sweetener doesn’t seem drastic. If you decide to limit your intake, I suggest a tapering off, since you need to get your tastebuds adjusted to the new sensation. Also, your brain needs a chance to rewire itself.
Next week, I’ll take a fresh look at sweeteners. I hope you have a good week, friends. Love, Cornie