Artificial sweeteners: as bad as sugar?


The zero sugar Coca-Cola marketing machine can be regularly seen out in full force here in London, handing out free cans to shoppers in prime shopping districts, even chanting, “No sugar, same Coke taste”.

The recent introduction of a sugar tax in the UK has helped highlight to the general population the problems associated with full sugar Coca Cola and other sodas. So, for those unfortunates addicted to Big Soda, it’s no real surprise that many of them will embrace the sugar free variants, and never a company to let a great marketing opportunity slip, Coke are making the most of it. Public Health England even commends switching to low-cal snacks and drinks.

At No Targets we have had a different view for many years, with study after study raising questions about artificial sweeteners. So, when we developed the Just Routine system it was important to enable the user to differentiate between food and drinks that might either help or harm health. We made the decision this must include ALL sodas – full sugar, low-cal or zero sugar.

We discussed this at Food Matters Live with nutritionists who showed an interest in the app. Many agreed with our stance, some even suggesting that a much bigger problem was brewing on the horizon regarding these products.

Experimental Biology 2018

Now, in a session entitled ‘The Influence of Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners on Vascular Health during the Onset and Progression of Diabetes’ at EB 2018 (an annual meeting comprised of over 14,000 scientists and exhibitors with interest in research and life sciences) ZERO-CALORIE ARTIFICIAL sweeteners, meant to reduce consumption of sugar, were linked to diabetes and obesity.

Using rats, through a set of experiments the researchers identified unique signatures of alterations in lipid metabolism, among others, following artificial sweetener consumption. The precise scientific details can be read here, but overall the results of this study suggests that exposure to high glucose and artificial sweetener administration lead to unique mechanisms of vascular impairment and homeostatic alterations that may be important during the onset and progression of diabetes and obesity.

In other words, after feeding one group of rats a diet high in glucose or fructose and varying types of sugars, versus another group with aspartame or acesulfame potassium, common zero-calorie artificial sweeteners, after three weeks the results of the study were far from what the marketers of zero sugar sodas might have wished for.

The research suggests artificial sweeteners alter how bodies process fat and obtain energy, with it also reported that researchers discovered acesulfame potassium appeared to accumulate in the blood, with increased amounts having more harmful effects on cells that line blood vessels.

One of the authors, Brian Hoffmann, assistant professor in the department of biomedical engineering at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Marquette University, said sugar replacements aren’t a solution to the diabetes and obesity epidemic and has been further quoted as saying, “in our studies, both sugar and artificial sweeteners seem to exhibit negative effects linked to obesity and diabetes, albeit through very different mechanisms from each other.”

Having observed that replacing natural sugars with zero-calorie artificial sweeteners leads to negative changes in fat and energy metabolism, Hoffman also warned there is no simple answer to “Which is worse, sugar or artificial sweeteners?” A diet high in sugar has negative health outcomes and the study suggests a diet high in artificial sugars has the same.

efsa (European Food Safety Administration) suggests a daily limit to most artificial sweeteners of around 5mg per kilo of body weight per day. However, my take on this is No Targets Just Routine was right to take the stance that diet soda should be shunned as much as full sugar soda.

Of much bigger immediate concern, while the sugar tax is designed to do good and commendably raised public awareness of the dangers of sugar, the unintended consequence may be the encouragement of the consumption of diet drinks that may do the body equal damage.

The solution?

In line with our recent survey, stick simple warning labels on all the cans and better still, just cut out fizzy drinks PERIOD!


Move beyond calories


Make eating real food Just Routine

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Iris is the founder of No Targets Just Routine. She has researched food since 2009 and believes “Happiness is real food shared with loved ones.”

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