After 18 “Thanksgiving” type feasts in less than a month, I am sure many people have voiced that their diet starts tomorrow. This may be a good idea for many people looking to shed extra pounds accumulated over yom tov, however, if artificial sweeteners are part of your diet strategy, you may want to rethink your plan.
Whether one is drinking diet soda, snacking on a sugar free cookie, sipping on some Crystal Light or adding a few packets of Splenda to an iced coffee, artificial sweeteners have crept into our way of life. However, a study published in the Journal of Physiology last month may make you rethink using these sweeteners as diet aids. The study, which was led by researchers from Yale University, found that mice that were given the choice between real sugar and the artificial replacements chose the real sugar even though artificial sweeteners often taste sweeter. The researchers suggest that when the tongue tastes something sweet the body expects a surge of glucose to follow. That glucose will in turn increase the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine and a feeling of satisfaction will occur. However, if the glucose boost does not follow the taste of something sweet, the feeling of satisfaction will not occur. The mice were therefore dissatisfied with the artificial sweeteners. The theory continues, that if these results are carried over to humans, which they likely would, the person would be more likely to consume more calories later on because their bodies never received the satisfaction it was expecting. This would undermine the diet purpose of the sweeteners.
For years researchers have been studying the safety and efficacy of artificial sweeteners and continue to inform consumers of the advantages and disadvantages of these products. In fact, in June, the Center for Science in the Public Interest downgraded Splenda from “safe” to “caution” after a recent animal study found an increased risk of leukemia with sucralose (Splenda) ingestion. Studies have also linked the usage of artificial sweeteners to weight gain, heart disease and diabetes.
Another issue with artificial sweeteners is that they continue to set our “sweetness yardstick” really high, and our bodies continue to crave sweets. Once we reduce the amount of sugar we put into our foods, our taste buds may be able to recalibrate and enjoy treats with less sugar. Below are some ideas of how to enjoy your food without piling on sugar or artificial sweeteners.
“Sweet” spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, add a hint of sweetness and taste delicious in coffee, oatmeal and muffins.
Puree berries, apples or peaches in fruit juice and use it as syrup for pancakes or waffles.
Mash bananas or puree prunes and use as a sweetener in quick breads and muffins.
Add a pinch of salt to fresh fruit or to roasted vegetables and the natural sweetness will become more potent.
Grate beets and add to smoothies, chocolate cake or soup and enjoy the natural sweetness.
Sweeten salad dressing with orange juice instead of honey or sugar.
By Shoshana Genack, MS, RD