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The biggest draw for people when it comes to artificial sweeteners is the simple fact that they have zero calories. So-called "diet' soft drinks are a very popular example, offering the same sweetness as regular soft drinks but with no calories. If there are no calories there must be no weight gain, right? Wrong! So if artificial sweeteners have no calories, you may ask yourself how it is that they can make you fat. Turns out there are in fact several ways in which they cause not only weight gain but also greater health issues.
Our brains are wired to give us chemical "rewards" whenever we give it something that it needs. So when we eat our brain is happy with us and gives us one of those rewards. The reason so many people get hooked on sugar is a mix between the good feeling sugar gives us and the good feeling our brain gives us for eating calories. When we consume artificial sweeteners, though, we aren't consuming any calories -- so while we get to enjoy the sweet taste, the lack of calories means we're not getting any of the brain signals associated with eating. This combination of not consuming calories and a sweet taste leads to a greatly increased appetite. Basically, the artificial sweeteners make us hungrier and we end up eating more food and gaining weight because of it.
When we eat enough of a certain type of food, we tend to want to eat more of it. So eating food or drinking beverages with artificial sweetener only increases our desire to eat or drink sweet things. This means we'll want to have even more items with artificial sweeteners -- continually increasing appetite and desire for sweetness. It also means that you'll be more tempted more often to give in and have actual sugar. So if you already have a tough time avoiding sugar, artificial sweeteners are only going to make it harder for you to cut it out of your diet and make cravings more intense.
There are more problems caused by artificial sweeteners' lack of calories or nutritional value. Our bodies require calories like a car requires fuel. If we don't get enough, or the proper kind, it will end up stifling our energy levels. Less energy is associated with lethargy, depression and tiredness. If you're drained of energy you aren't getting any physical activity in, and if you aren't getting physical activity in, you're getting fat. That's how our bodies work, and that's what artificial sweeteners do to us.
Artificial sweeteners can do a lot of serious damage to our gut bacteria in a short amount of time. In this case, the bacteria in our gut are a natural part of our bodies and not something that we want to damage. Disruption of the bacteria is associated with a lot of harmful conditions. It can cause intense cravings for certain foods, compounding on the ways the sweeteners are already increasing our appetites. It can also make you more susceptible to illness such as colds. Studies have found that serious damage to your gut bacteria can begin less than a week after starting regular sweetener consumption.
An unhealthy gut can cause serious problems with your metabolism, making it much harder for your body to regulate your weight. Having a normal, healthy metabolism is one of the most important factors in controlling your weight. If your metabolism is strong and healthy you'll have an easier time losing weight and an easier time maintaining healthy weight. So when you are destroying your gut bacteria with artificial sweeteners you are ultimately slowing your metabolism to a crawl. One healthy study on diet beverages found a 34% increased risk in developing a major metabolic syndrome.
Another huge impact that this gut damage has is the development of glucose intolerance. Glucose intolerance is a very serious issue and leads to metabolism disorder and type 2 diabetes. The impact is so large that one study found that individuals who regularly consume diet soft drinks increase their chance of developing type 2 diabetes by 121%! So if you think replacing sugar with a sweetener is protecting you from diabetes, think again.
Long term studies of artificial sweeteners have shown that there is a connection to weight gain. Studies have found that people who regularly use artificial sweeteners roughly double their chance of becoming obese over a ten year period. That's a huge increase and should give you a good idea of how bad these sweeteners can be for you.
Those of us with a sweet tooth don't need to give up all hope. While artificial sweeteners may increase your chances of getting fat, certain natural sweeteners are much safer for us. Sugar is the most well-known natural sweetener, and we all know how bad it is for us. But there are other natural alternatives to sugar that are actually much easier on our body. Stevia is a great replacement for sweeteners as it is not associated with most of the health risks that artificial sweeteners are. Maple syrup is a natural sweetener that can be a great replacement in moderation. Unlike regular sugar it has many minerals that your body needs - however, it's still very sugary, so avoid too much of it like you would other sweeteners. Fruit is probably the best way to fulfil your desire for something sweet, so replace your sugary drinks or snacks with a bit of fresh fruit.
Artificial sweeteners are unhealthy in a disturbingly large variety of ways, and at the end of the day, they can end up making you fat. If you want to keep your weight under control, avoid those artificial sweeteners and seek out natural solutions.