I’m going to have to say “I told you so!” My patients know well that I am not a fan of artificial sweeteners. Last year, an article was published in a Canadian journal that looked at the long-term effects of artificial sweetener use.
In the article, the researchers looked at 37 studies that involved 400,000 patients aged 12 and over. They combined the results and came to the following conclusions. First, change in weight was not associated with intake of artificial sweeteners. In fact, in three of the studies, weight increased with artificial sweetener use. Second, risk of weight increase, metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes), and diabetes were higher in those who had higher intake of the artificial sweeteners.
For me, artificial sweeteners have too many downsides to make them a regular part of our diets. They have inflammatory properties that can make arthritis pain worse. They also can cause water retention. This is in addition to the effects I’ve shared above. My recommendations to my patients is to use real sugar minimally or in moderation. I know that some may read what they want to “hear” and not do what I’m going to suggest, but I think the lesson is worth sharing.
I would rather my patients give up their Diet Cokes, Sweet-n-Low, Nutrasweet, and the others, and let them have an occasional soda or sweet tea. Yes, I said that. By occasional, I mean 1 or 2 a week instead of 1 or 2 diet drinks everyday. One of my frequent sayings is that “no one can do never.” It is nearly impossible to not have the things we enjoy ever again. I find it best to allow ourselves the OCCASIONAL indulgence if it helps us make good choices the rest of the time.
One of my patients has a “cheat” day per month. He makes good choices with his diet and exercise the rest of the month and has one day where he eats his favorite things. He’s losing weight and has his diabetes under control. Best of all, he feels good about the choices he’s making. Another patient has one day a week where she allows herself to eat the things she avoids the rest of the week. I like to tell my patients that it is all about balance. To improve health, the balance does need to be weighted towards good choices, however.
On a side note, you may have noticed that Coke Zero is now Coke Zero Sugar. They changed the sweetener from Splenda to aspartame. Technically, the change makes the drink safer, but definitely changes the taste. At our house, we occasionally buy the small, 8 ounce cans of sodas for parties. Something to consider when you just want a taste.
Avoiding artificial sweeteners is a good start to moving towards a healthier lifestyle. Talk to your doctor about finding a balance that works for you and your health.
Michael Dominguez, MD, FAAFP is board certified in Family Medicine. His office is located at HealthTexas Medical Group, 590 N. General McMullen, 78228, phone: 210-249-0212.