There are few things I love and hate as much as sugar. I’ve always had an incredibly intense sweet tooth. When I was a kid I ate breakfast bowl sized Sundays with all the fixings DAILY for my after-school snack.
My poor kids are stuck with all natural apple sauce.
But more and more evidence is showing that the negative side effects of sugar paint a similar story as that of the tobacco industry.
Almost all diseases, virus, and autoimmune diseases have some link to sugar consumption. It even affects our mental health! And this nasty little ninja is hiding just about everywhere in the grocery store.
Yes, ingesting refined sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin, and increases your risk for a whole host of issues.
A while ago, one of the food industry’s responses to the demand for lower-calorie foods that still taste great, was artificial sweeteners. It made sense. We wanted to cut out sugar to keep our suave sexy frames but didn't want to give up that sweet white powder (not that white powder, although in the 80's it was almost as popular).
The idea behind them is that you can still get the sweetness, without the calories; like when you have a “diet pop” versus a regular one. Theoretically, this was going to help people maintain a healthy body weight, and hopefully not increase anyone’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.
But, it doesn’t always work out the way we think it will...
TYPES OF ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
Sugar substitutes fall into several categories, but what they all have in common is that they have a sweet taste and fewer calories than plain sugar.
Today we'll specifically discuss "artificial sweeteners," which are sweet synthetic chemicals.
They're also known as "non-nutritive sweeteners," and include things like:
HEALTH EFFECTS OF ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
Negative health effects from artificial sweeteners are cited all over the place, and while many studies show effects, others don't. Cancer? Maybe yes, maybe no. Heart disease? Maybe yes, maybe no.
It can be confusing to hear all these studies contradict each other. When looking at a study it's always helpful to understand where the funding for the study came from. The food industry has deep pockets and an invested interest in protecting their product.
I did want to point out one ironic thing, to do with artificial sweeteners and weight.
One study found that people who tend to drink diet sodas have double the risk of gaining weight than those who didn't.
Another study has shown an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.
While these results don't apply equally to everyone, they do somehow seem ironic, don't they?
HOW DO ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS AFFECT OUR WEIGHT?
Now that’s a million-dollar question!
There are so many ideas out there to try to explain it, but the reality is we don’t know for sure; plus, it might play out differently in different people.
Is it because people feel that they can eat cake because they’ve switched to diet soda?
Perhaps it’s because the sweeteners change the taste preferences so that fruit starts to taste worse, and veggies taste terrible?
Maybe artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for more (real) sweets?
It can be that the sweet taste of these sweeteners signals to our body to release insulin to lower our blood sugar; but, because we didn’t actually ingest sugar, our blood sugar levels get too low, to the point where we get sugar cravings.
Some even say (and at least one animal study suggests) that saccharin may inspire addictive tendencies toward it.
Maybe there is even a more complex response that involves our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels.
Understand that added sugar is not good for you, but the solution is not to replace them all with artificial sweeteners. There are just too many unanswered questions, and sketchy coincidences (some of the people who sit on the FDA that approve these substances use to work for the tobacco industry, back when they denied tobacco's link to lung cancer). Are these really substances that we can trust?
I highly recommend reducing your sugar intake, so you naturally re-train your palate and start enjoying the taste of real food that isn't overly sweet. This way you're reducing your intake of added sugar, as well as not needing to replace it with artificial sweeteners.
Try having ½ teaspoon less of sugar in your hot morning drink. Try reducing a ¼ cup of the sugar called for in some recipes. Try diluting juice with water.
Your body will thank you!
NATURALLY SWEETENED MATCHA LATTE
1 teaspoon matcha powder
1.5 cup almond milk, unsweetened
1-2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey (optional)
1. Heat almond milk and maple syrup/honey (if using) in a small pot.
2. Add matcha powder to cup.
3. When almond milk is hot, add about a ¼ cup to matcha and stir to combine.
4. Add rest of the milk to cup.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can steep a chai tea bag in the milk if you prefer chai tea over matcha.