We’ve all been there: “I’ll take the diet coke, please”. Thinking, oh yeah this is the healthier option over that fully loaded, calorie dense regular coke. And in some cases, you’re right. There aren’t as may calories, in fact no calories in a coke zero or diet coke. But there are those hidden gems that most people don’t know about that are causing us more damage.
First, let’s discuss a little anatomy and biology of our bodies. And no, I won’t go in depth with scientific terms here on you. It’s honestly much more simple than you think. When we are hungry our brain sends out a signal from our pituitary gland which sits inside our Hypothalamus. It gives us that grumble in your tummy feeling that indicates “Hey I’m hungry, feed me now”. And most of the time it’s doing its job correctly
With our biological clocks, we like to eat every 3-4 hours to maintain our metabolism and glucose levels. Now let’s throw sugar into the mix. Say you eat a donut in the morning. For those first 5 minutes you are so unbelievably satisfied. That Boston cream donut was exactly what you were searching for. Wait an hour or so and you start to come back down the “happy slope”. Your body may feel sluggish, you might get a headache, or your belly feels upset. What is happening? Your glucose, or your blood sugar, levels in your body are high right now trying to digest and absorb all the sugar you ate. That signal from your brain that helps regulate hunger is all out of whack, and your pancreas is working extra hard to metabolize the sugar.
Ok, so now we know what happens with regular sugar. What is the big deal with fake sugar? Going back, to the diet coke example, you must be thinking isn’t this better? I’m not getting all those calories and by body isn’t out of whack? In some sense, yes, it is ‘better’. If you’re trying to control weight loss or have high blood sugar this is a decent alternative. But, let’s dive in to how fake sugar isn’t so great after all.
In a recent Harvard study, I found a compelling research article about the negative effects of artificial sweeteners. Dr. Ludwig describes how fake sugar entering the body can trick our brains to thinking we are hungrier. It dysregulates the Hypothalamus. UH OH! Now we have ourselves a problem.
One concern that research has found with those who use artificial sweeteners is that it may replace too many lost calories through other sources. For instance, since you’re drinking a diet coke maybe you’ll have an extra piece of cake. It offsets the weight loss or health benefits. Another problem that research discovered is that it changes the way we taste some foods. Since non-nutritive sweeteners are much more potent than regular sugar our brains are tricked into thinking other foods aren’t as sweet. And then we add more sugar and the cycle continues. The overstimulation of these sugar receptors from continuous consumption of artificial sweeteners can limit tolerance for more complex tastes. People who always use these sweeteners will start to find normal sweet foods such as fruits less appealing. Vegetables? Downright unpalatable.
In the end, switching out artificial sweeteners isn’t really doing you any good. It’s shunning the healthy and nutritious foods and making you consume more of the artificially flavored foods with less nutritional value.
So, I think I’ll stick with an apple and a glass of lemon water, please.