Is This “Diet” Food Causing You to Gain Weight by Killing the Good Bacteria in Your Gut?
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Few people know that the sweetener in the yellow packets, also called sucralose, was actually discovered while scientists were designing an insecticide.1
Synthetic sweeteners found in diet foods and diet sodas may seem innocent, but they can kill healthy gut bacteria and even contribute to obesity. A natural plant sweetener like Organic Stevia is calorie-free, chemical-free, and gut-protective.
Even though scientists slightly modified the original insecticide into the sweetener that it is today, sucralose is still effective at killing bugs. The only difference? These bugs are microscopic and beneficial to your digestive and immune systems.
The Healthy Artificial Sweetener Myth
A study that was published in 2008 from Duke University found that sucralose kills beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.2
The trial was done over a 12 week period. During the trial, researchers collected stool samples and noticed a disruption in the balance between good bacteria and bad bacteria. Even after an additional 12 weeks of recovery, levels of beneficial microflora in the gut remained “significantly depressed.”
Unfortunately, sucralose is touted as one of the safer artificial sweeteners. Aspartame has been associated with 90 different negative symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, and weight gain, and despite recent reports that saccharin could be used as an ingredient in anticancer drugs, the artificial sweetener was considered a probable human carcinogen until the late ’90s.3 Sucralose doesn’t contain aspartame or saccharin, but is it really better?
Even if you avoid the colorful little packets of sweetener, sugar-free diet foods and diet sodas are often sweetened with laboratory-made artificial sweeteners to give you all the sweetness of sugar without the calories. When we want the taste of sweet without the added calories, more often than not it is the diet soda or the sugar-free treats that we reach for.
Whether it is sucralose, aspartame, or saccharin, it seems that all synthetic sweeteners affect the bacteria in the gut and damage the intestinal wall. As Susan E. Swithers of Purdue University points out in her 2013 op-ed published in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, these artificial sweeteners can create big problems when the public is led to believe they are healthy. In reality, artificial sweeteners can cause as many health problems as sugar and can even make the negative effects of eating sugar worse.4
Artificial sweeteners can change how the body reacts to glucose as a precursor to type 2 diabetes.5 Artificial sweeteners can also lead to a greater consumption of high-calorie, high-sugar foods since the brain can’t be “tricked” by a substitute for the real thing.6 In 2015, Swedish researchers from Karolinska Institutes discovered that artificially sweetened diet sodas, often substituted for sugary sodas, may actually increase heart failure risk.7
“Diet” Foods Cause Inflammation
According to a 2011 review by Marta Pepino at Washington University, artificial sweeteners change the environment of the intestines by triggering an inflammatory response.8 Inflammation disrupts normal metabolism, which ultimately contributes to obesity.
If we dig a little deeper, we find evidence suggesting that intestinal inflammation is not to be taken lightly. When it comes to artificial sweeteners, the chemicals that give us that sweet taste are actually damaging the balance between good and bad bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
Across the globe, researchers and scientists are more interested than ever in the delicate balance of bacteria within the human body. A 2012 study from Zurich’s Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health gives a little more insight into the metabolism of artificial sweeteners and the role that microflora play in the prevention or development of disease.9
Short-chain fatty acids are a byproduct of bacterial metabolism. According to the team in Zurich, these short-chain fatty acids can:
- Impact satiety signals, causing us to eat more.
- Cause the lining of the gut to become inflamed.
- Enable bacteria to leak from the digestive tract into the bloodstream, which has been shown to increase risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.
The damage that artificial sweeteners inflict on the rest of the body all comes back to the gut. Within the past decade, researchers have begun to explore gut health and how it impacts the health of the entire body in a ripple effect. We already know from the results of the 2008 Duke University study that Splenda, containing sucralose, can alter gut microflora.2 In 2014, a team of Israeli scientists explored the gut connection further by examining how mice who ingested artificial sweeteners later developed obesity and diabetes.10
Again, the answer was the same — artificial sweeteners changed intestinal bacteria populations that impact healthy metabolism, food breakdown, and energy storage. This means that, even for the primary purpose of weight loss, artificial sweeteners aren’t doing their job and may even have a counterintuitive effect on the body. This metabolic experiment on mice, published in Nature, was considered ground-breaking with the potential for a similar effect in the human gut.
Avoid Sucralose Dangers: Get a Sweet Taste Without Damaging the Gut
Only recently have we begun to discover that gut bacteria are largely responsible for the balancing act that takes place between you and your environment.
Luckily, just like nature has given us antibiotic herbs that do not harm good bacteria, we also have a naturally sweet plant that:
- Contains no sugar
- Is free from calories
- Does not disrupt beneficial gut bacteria
- Does not contribute to obesity
Natives of the Guarani Tribe in Paraguay have enjoyed the natural sweetness of Stevia for centuries. This is because Stevia, or Stevia rebaudiana, is a plant with leaves that are naturally sweet and that require minimal processing. In fact, Stevia leaves are so sweet, you can eat them right off the plant! Stevia is up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar, which means you can use much less of it to get the same sweet taste. Stevia is also FDA approved with some studies indicating benefits to lower blood pressure, suppress inflammatory mediators, and regulate blood sugar levels in the body, as confirmed by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Bendheim Integrative Medicine Center.11
Body Ecology has extracted the sweetness from the Stevia plant and concentrated it into liquid sweetener that is easy and safe to use. Body Ecology’s Liquid Stevia is extracted from Stevia plant leaves, believed to be the best part of the plant to derive this sweet taste. Body Ecology Stevia is made with an exclusive, proprietary extraction method that purposely avoids the bitterness or “licorice–like” aftertaste found in many other liquid Stevia products made from white Stevia powder. Body Ecology’s Liquid Stevia aims to provide the highest level of sweetness by preserving the natural flavor and vitality of the Stevia plant. Since the Stevia market is largely unregulated, it’s important to know how your Stevia is made to ensure both safety and quality.
Whenever you want a little extra sweetness — without all the hazards that come with too much sugar or chemical sugar alternatives — choose Stevia. It’s natural, safe, and guilt-free.
Another healthy zero-calorie sugar substitute is Lakanto, which is made of a special fermented combination of erythritol and luo han guo. Lo han guo is getting popular under the name of monk fruit. Lakanto is granulated like sugar and bakes wonderfully without any aftertaste.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Given the fact that the popular synthetic sweetener sucralose was discovered when scientists were designing an insecticide, it would only make sense that sucralose can effectively kill bugs, including beneficial bugs, in the body. Although many people believe that sucralose is a safer artificial sweetener, it can still cause long-term damage to the intestinal wall.
Artificial sweeteners found in popular diet foods can affect the inner ecology of the intestines by triggering inflammation. This inflammation will disrupt metabolism and can even contribute to obesity.
If you’re looking to satisfy a sweet craving without affecting your digestive health, you can rely on a naturally sweet plant known as Stevia — it’s sugar-free and calorie-free and will not disrupt beneficial gut bacteria to contribute to obesity. Body Ecology’s Liquid Stevia provides a sweet taste without any of the chemical hazards that can come from synthetic sugar alternatives. Lakanto is an ideal healthy sugar substitute to use for baking, without any aftertaste.
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- “Artificial Sweeteners (cont.)” MedicineNet.com.
- MB Abou-Donia, et al. Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2008; 71 (21): 1415 – 1429.
- S. Environmental Protection Agency. “US EPA removes saccharin from hazardous substances listing.” ScienceDaily.
- Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Sep;24(9):431-41. doi: 10.1016/j.tem.2013.05.005. Epub 2013 Jul 10.
- Y. Pepino, C. D. Tiemann, B. W. Patterson, B. M. Wice, S. Klein. Sucralose Affects Glycemic and Hormonal Responses to an Oral Glucose Load. Diabetes Care, 2013; DOI: 10.2337/dc12-2221.
- Tellez L, Ren X, Han W, Medina A, Ferreira J, Yeckel C and de Araujo, I. Glucose utilization rates regulate intake levels of artificial sweeteners. The Journal of Physiology, September 2013.
- Doctor, Rina Marie. “Diet Soda May Not Be Healthier Option: Beverages With Artificial Sweeteners Linked To Heart Failure.” Tech Times.
- MY Pepino, et al. Non-nutritive sweeteners, energy balance, and glucose homeostasis. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care. 2011 Jul; 14 (4): 391 – 395.
- AN Payne, et al. Gut microbial adaptation to dietary consumption of fructose, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols: implications for host–microbe interactions contributing to obesity. Obesity Reviews. 2012; 13: 799 – 809.
- Jotham Suez, Tal Korem, David Zeevi, Gili Zilberman-Schapira, Christoph A. Thaiss, Ori Maza, David Israeli, Niv Zmora, Shlomit Gilad, Adina Weinberger, Yael Kuperman, Alon Harmelin, Ilana Kolodkin-Gal, Hagit Shapiro, Zamir Halpern, Eran Segal, Eran Elinav. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13793.
- “Stevia.” Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.