The American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association are quite clear in their recommendations.
Replacing regular sugar in food and drinks with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, acesulfame-K, and neotame can help you reach and maintain a healthy body weight and control glucose if you have diabetes.
Sounds sensible and reasonable. Problem is, the science does not support this view. In fact, it tells us that people who follow this advice will put on weight and worsen diabetes.
And it’s not just sweeteners — the same effect can be seen with flavorings too. Here’s what’s going on. . .
Palatants Put on The Pounds
In the world of mass production farming, animals need to be fattened up as quickly as possible. One way of doing this is to feed them a diet high in calories. But what if the calf, lamb or piglet is fussy and doesn’t want to eat?
In The Dorito Effect, a book by Mark Schatzker, the author explains how farmers overcome this problem. They add a powder to the feed called a palatant.
Palatants work very well, overcoming any reluctance to eat and typically increasing food intake by five percent. This mounts up to serious poundage over time.
When farmers started adding a palatant called Sucram to hay, sheep ate 15% more. The food additive’s sweet, milky flavor led the animals to think they were suckling mother’s milk.
A similar pleasure-creating phenomenon can be seen in humans, except that we don’t call these chemicals palatants. We call them flavorings.
I think the saying “Eat like a pig” just took on a new meaning.
Artificial (or natural) flavors fool us into thinking we are eating something real and nutritious when we are not.
A strawberry-flavored yogurt that’s never seen a strawberry or an orange drink that contains orange-flavor chemicals gives us the illusion we’re eating the real thing. In a blind taste or smell test, we can’t tell the difference.
But why does this cause us to consume more? Just because it tastes delicious doesn’t explain the urge to eat or drink more than we need to meet our caloric needs.
The likely reason is that these artificially flavored foods are depleted in vitamins, minerals and essential fats, so we unknowingly keep eating to obtain these nutrients that the food’s smell and taste tell us should be there.
This fact has been demonstrated in animals.
There is no vitamin C in that fake-orange-flavored treat, but our bodies tell us it’s got to be there somewhere, so keep eating.
But there’s also another explanation why we can’t stop eating nutrition-free “fake” foods.
Real Food Tells Us When to Stop Eating
Professor Fred Provenza of Utah State University believes he has an answer: “Fundamentally, eating too much is an inability to satiate.”
Real food meets human needs at multiple levels and gives a sense of completeness.
Our encounter with flavor may begin at the mouth, but that’s not where it ends. We have taste receptors throughout the digestive tract that can also sense protein, fat, sugar, hormones, pathogens and plant compounds.
Flavonoids in plants not only taste great, they are also toxic above a certain level. Whether it’s the oleocanthal in olives, myristicin in parsley or bitter compounds found in grapes, blueberries and broccoli, once we reach the threshold for toxicity, we get an inner message from hormones that tells us we’ve had enough — and we stop eating.
We receive no such message from flavor-enhanced chicken nuggets or soft drinks. They may be flooded with chemicals, but they contain nothing toxic that tells us it’s time to stop, so the calories build up.
Flavorings may fool the taste buds but they don’t fool the body. The same can be said for artificial sweeteners.
Sweeteners Promote Inflammation
In animals, sweeteners have the opposite effect to flavonoids, causing the release of a digestive hormone that tells us to eat more.
Yale scientist Dana Small believes that artificial sweeteners “erode the relationship between sweet taste and calories.”
Using human brain scans, she found that the amygdala – an area involved with emotions, emotional behavior and motivation – lit up differently in the group that consumed no-calorie sweeteners compared to the sugar group.
Another study found that a high concentration of sweeteners promoted the creation of human fat cells.
Drs. Eran Segal and Eran Elinav from the world-renowned Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have conducted a number of mice studies to look at the effects of artificial sweeteners.
They have demonstrated profound changes in the gut bacteria that make up the microbiome. They saw the animals “developing microbial functions that are known to cause a propensity for obesity, diabetes and complications of these problems in both mice and humans.”
In a human study they found half a group of volunteers developed glucose intolerance – a prediabetic state — after just seven days of consuming an artificial sweetener at normal levels.
The scientists conclude that these chemicals cause certain bacteria to secrete metabolites that promote inflammation, which in turn changes the body’s ability to handle glucose.
Unsurprisingly, they oppose the advice of the medical associations that tell us these chemicals are a healthy way to lose weight and control blood sugar. They suggest avoiding sweeteners AND sugar.
And don’t forget to keep away from flavorings,too.
- The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker
- The Personalized Diet by Drs Eran Segal and Eran Elinav