You see the lineup of beverages and you're trying to decide which one to drink. Then you notice the diet coke and it becomes a no brainer. This one, you may think to yourself, has no calories and therefore no sugar and the taste isn't bad. You end up picking the diet coke thinking this is a better option and you're doing your health a favor.
On the surface, that is a very valid stream of consciousness at face value. The marketing is on point to make consumers think they can ingest a beverage that won't cause weight gain and has no sugar so it must be a decent overall option.
Natural sweeteners can contain things like fructose present in fruit, raw, unadulterated, unprocessed cane sugar, manuka honey, coconut sugar, pure maple syrup, etc. Many of these options can be beneficial in the proper quantity. Artificial sweeteners are things like aspartame, saccharin and Sucralose. They are virtually no calorie sweeteners representing synthetic sugar substitutes.
An article I read recently prompted the topic of this blog post. The article reflected on a study conducted in which one group of mice were fed a natural sweetener (glucose or sucrose) and the other group of mice were given an artificial sweetener (Sucralose, saccharin or aspartame.) The results showed that the mice consuming the artificial sweetener developed glucose intolerance (insulin resistance) while the group of mice that ingested the natural sweetener did not develop glucose intolerance. This glucose intolerance means that because insulin is resistant it doesn't as effectively allow the blood sugars to be taken up into the skeletal muscle and the liver. Blood sugars linger in circulation for longer and this can be a predisposition to type 2 diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome.
The article went on to discuss how these artificial sweeteners also caused gut disruptions in terms of a dysbiosis. The artificial sweeteners remain intact throughout digestion and when they reach the colon they provide food for certain microbes to ferment. In the study it was shown that the artificial sweeteners allowed for bacteria in the genus Bacteroides to be increased and bacteria in the genus Clostridiales to be decreased. This is the rationale for the glucose intolerance response among the mice that ingested the artificial sweetener solution. This disruption in the gut microbiome can lead to devastating effects not only within the digestive tract but also elsewhere in the body. Dysbiosis issues can be associated with SIBO, IBS, IBD, gas, bloating, leaky gut and permeability issues in the gastrointestinal tract. In addition, a permeable gut can set the stage for inflammation to up-regulate throughout the body. This can lead to diseases and symptoms such as: headaches/migraines, thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, arthritis, fibromyalgia, fatigue, insomnia, hormonal imbalances, skin issues, mood instabilities, etc. As you can see all of these things are able to be influenced by the consumption of artificial sweeteners.
A couple options I'd consider in place of artificial sweeteners and even refined sugars would be: water infused with fruits or vegetables, including a little manuka honey in a beverage or food item, using dates or figs to sweeten, monk fruit and perhaps a little green leaf stevia. These will be far better options to promote better insulin sensitivity and maintain health of the gut, which is so imperative for the health of the whole body.
A small amount of raw, unpasteurized honey/manuka honey is a great sweetener option.
Dr. Seamus Allen
CFMP, DACBN, DC