In an effort to cut back on sugar, many adults reach for sugar substitutes, in the hopes they’ll be a little healthier. But, according to a recent study, artificial sweeteners can actually increase our health risks.
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“Whether you are choosing something that has real sugar, artificial sweeteners or even a plant-based sweetener that has no calories – it’s still turning on the center of your brain and training you to want more sweet things,” says Lindsay Malone, RD, who did not take part in the study.
What the research examined
The study looked at data on 81,714 women between the ages of 50 and 79.
Researchers found that drinking artificially sweetened beverages was associated with an increased risk of stroke, heart disease and even death.
Women who drank two or more diet drinks a day had a 23% increase in stroke risk when compared with women who drank diet drinks less than once per week.
Malone says artificial sweeteners change our gut bacteria, among other things.
Sugar, in general, promotes an increase in your personal blood sugar, as well as spikes in insulin. All of these things combined can contribute to excess weight gain ― particularly fat, and also inflammation.
It’s also important to keep in mind that artificial sweeteners tend to be hundreds of times sweeter than regular sugar, Malone notes.
A vicious cycle
Consuming artificial sweeteners sets the bar really high for your palate, and encourages your taste buds to keep going for something sweeter and sweeter each time.
Malone says a good way to gauge whether your diet is too sweet is to see if fruits like apples and strawberries taste sweet to you.
If the answer is ‘no,’ you should work on lowering the ‘sweet threshold’ of your palate. “Work on cutting in half what you’re doing right now and continue to cut it in half until you’re not using any sweeteners,” she says. “Consider limiting your sugar to just on a special occasion, or in a baked good enjoyed in moderation.”