Artificial sweeteners are body toxins. They are never a good idea for pregnant women, children or teenagers — despite the reduced sugar content — because of possible irreversible cell damage. If you decide it’s worth the risks, then go ahead, but pay attention to your body and your cravings. Once you start tracking your response to artificial sweeteners, it may surprise you.
Short-circuiting the insulin spike
Basically, artificial sweeteners confuse your brain. The enzymes in your mouth begin a cascade that primes your cell receptors for an insulin surge, and when it doesn’t arrive your brain feels cheated. That’s why most diet sodas are loaded with caffeine — so you’ll still feel a jolt.
But even if your brain is distracted momentarily, soon enough it wants the energy boost you promised it — and you find yourself craving carbohydrates. In one study, people who used artificial sweeteners ate up to three times the amount of calories as the control group. But again, this is individual. It all comes down to the brain’s perception of calories, which can get thrown off whenever artificial ingredients are substituted for whole food.
In my practice I’ve seen that many patients are better able to break their addiction to sugar and maintain weight loss with the help of sugar substitutes. This is probably because insulin is not involved. Also, the substitutes are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, so you may use less of them. In certain cases, I think moderate use of artificial sweeteners is okay — as long as you feel well.
But you should know that sugar substitutes don’t have to be artificial. There is another way!
Stevia and sorbitol — natural alternatives to artificial sweeteners
Other countries and diabetics have both taught us a lot about controlling insulin naturally. For many years, diabetics have used products sweetened with polyalcohol sugars like sorbitol, xylitol, malitol, and mannitol. These are natural sweeteners that do not trigger an insulin reaction. (Xylitol can be derived from birch tree pulp). They have half the calories of sugar and are not digested by the small intestine.
While most polyalcohol sugars have no side effects, sorbitol is a natural laxative and can cause diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, bloating and flatulence.
For this reason, we recommend the herb stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) over sorbitol as a natural sweetener to our patients. Known in South America as the “sweet herb,” stevia has been used for over 400 years without ill effect. Stevia has been enormously popular in Japan, where it has been in use for more than 20 years, now rivaling Equal and Sweet’N Low. It’s 200–300 times sweeter than sugar, so just a small portion of stevia will sweeten even a strong cup of tea.
We’ve known about stevia in the US since 1918, but pressure from the sugar import trade blocked its use as a commodity. Today stevia is slowly gaining steam as a sugar substitute, despite similar hurdles. The FDA has approved its use as a food supplement, but not as a food additive due to a lack of studies. Stevia can be used for anything you might use sugar in, including baking. It is naturally low in carbohydrates. You can buy stevia at most health food stores and over the web. There will always be those who have a sensitivity to a substance, but based on reports from other countries it appears to have little to no side effects. For women who want to move through their cravings for sugar without artificial chemicals, stevia is a great option.
More importantly, you can do a lot to support your body in other ways to reduce your dependency on sugar and sugar substitutes — something I encourage every woman to do. Once your body returns to its natural state of balance, you may find that you can toss out those artificial sweeteners and put sugar in its proper place: where you have control over it and not vice versa.