Losing the taste for sweetness trumps using ‘healthy’ sweeteners, in my book

I am not a fan of refined sugar, generally speaking. But I’m most certainly not a fan of the ‘healthy’ alternatives ” artificial sweeteners ” either. One cause of concern is their safety. For example, aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal, Canderel) has quite a body of research which demonstrates it has real potential to have adverse effects on the body and brain . Another concern for me as that there really isn’t any good evidence that swapping artificial sweeteners for sugar promotes weight loss in the long term. In fact, at least some evidence suggests just the opposite (see here).

And one other cause for my lack of enthusiasm for artificial sweeteners concerns the fact that they perpetuate the desire (for some, need) for very sweet foodstuffs. That’s probably a problem, because it generally drives people to eat more foods rich in refined sugar and/or artificial sweeteners.

A better strategy might be just to wean off (or stop dead) intensely sweet foods. Now, someone used to eating a lot of sweet foods may miss them for a while, but the end result is usually that the need for sweet foods dissipates (so that the sweet foods are no longer missed). It generally leads to a re-setting of the taste buds so that many foodstuffs that used to be swallowed down without any problem, now taste a bit too sweet.

I’ve seen this effect in many individuals, and even in my own life. I used to drink several mugfuls of coffee a day, each with two heaped sugars. Many years ago, over a month or so, I weaned myself down and have not taken sugar in coffee since. I couldn’t ” it genuinely tastes better without sugar now. Another example of this concerns chocolate. I’m an advocate of dark chocolate, and used to eat a brand containing 70 per cent cocoa solids. To be frank, I didn’t enjoy it all that much (which was partly why I ate it), partly on account of the fact that it did not taste as sweet as, say, some milk chocolate. However, for the last few months I’ve largely confined myself to 85 per cent cocoa dark chocolate. Now, when I have a bit of 70 per cent stuff, I am genuinely taken aback at how sweet it tastes to me.

I was thinking about the idea of weaning of intensely sweet foods while reading commentary regarding artificial sweeteners that has just been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association [1]. This commentary warns of the potential hazards of artificial sweeteners, including that fact that Individuals who habitually consume artificial sweeteners may find more satiating but less intensely sweet foods (e.g. fruit) less appealing and unsweet foods (e.g. vegetables, legumes) less palatable, reducing overall diet quality in ways that might contribute to excessive weight gain.

The commentary also refers to research (covered here) where, compared to sugar sweetened food, artificially sweetened food led to increased food intake and fatness in rats. But it also refers to research in which rats were able to self-dispense either saccharin or cocaine [2]. Most animals, it turns out, chose saccharin over cocaine. Blimey.

Sometimes, coming off sweet foods can induce cravings for them (well, they can be quite addictive, after all). For some strategies that can effectively quell such cravings, see here.

References:

1. Ludwig DS. Artificially sweetened beverages ” cause for concern JAMA 2009;302(22):2477-2478

2. Lenoir M, et al. Intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward. PLoS One 2007;2(1):e698

12 Responses to Losing the taste for sweetness trumps using ‘healthy’ sweeteners, in my book

  1. Anna Salvesen 10 December 2009 at 9:17 pm #

    Yes! At this point, I buy more sugar for the hummingbird feeder than I do for the family, by a factor of at least several times. I can’t remember when I bought a sugar substitute, either.

  2. Bryan - oz4caster 11 December 2009 at 2:25 am #

    I’ve had the same experience with sweets. I had to completely break my sugar addiction to seriously lose weight. Artificial sweeteners were no help and I gained weight while using them and found that they kept my sugar addiction going. I would cheat every weekend. Until about four years ago I decided enough was enough and broke my sugar addiction and aspartame addiction. Yes, I noticed cravings for diet soda for at least a week after switching to coffee for my caffeine addiction, so for me it was addicting. The sugar cravings were strong for several weeks after quiting but gradually subsided and were completely gone after a few months. I later dropped the coffee to break the caffeine addiction as well. It’s nice not being addicted to any particular substance. Now I notice that most foods with added sugar taste too sweet and are no longer appealing. I have no cravings for them at all and can sit and watch my wife and daughter indulge their addictions with no problem at all :)

  3. Vin - NaturalBias 11 December 2009 at 6:35 pm #

    It’s amazing what a difference it can make when you give your taste buds a chance to readjust. After cutting sugar and processed foods out of my diet, extremely sweet foods actually began to taste unpleasant, and it happened with some foods that I wouldn’t have expected. I remember drinking orange juice and thinking how excessively sweet it was and didn’t even want to finish it. Now I know that fruit juice, including orange juice, isn’t much more than pasteurized sugar water, but at the time, this was a surprising realization.

  4. Dr Willip 11 December 2009 at 6:37 pm #

    Every time I read about the dangers of artificial sweeteners, they lump them all together as if it were all the same. Yes, aspartame sounds scary, but sucralose and saccharin do not have even close to the same bad reputation. Granted, I have reduced the use of artificial stuff with the addition of stevia. However, I have not managed to reduce my desire for sweetness. It’s part of the joys of eating in my estimation (ok, so i’m addicted). Sure, it can make someone overeat but, in my case, it’s what keeps me from wasting away. There are reasons why sweetness is so compelling. Yet, I stay away from refined sugar, which has been linked to most of the chronic diseases of modernity. In my mind, artificial sweetener is by far the lesser evil.

  5. Avi 11 December 2009 at 8:17 pm #

    Some 6 months ago, I gave up all added sugar, including foods containing corn syrup (and certainly high fructose corn syrup), honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, rice syrup, etc.
    About a year before that, I’d given up using splenda and sweet and low. In other words, I no longer consume any kind of added sweeteners in my diet, and after some 2 weeks of changing my habits, (I now drink my coffee black with nothing in it,) my tastes began to change dramatically. Now, when I crave something sweet, I eat an apple, or a clementine, or some melon. I no longer even crave things like donuts, pancakes or candy.

  6. Angie 11 December 2009 at 8:59 pm #

    John,

    Try 90% chocolate!

  7. Grok 12 December 2009 at 2:20 am #

    Couldn’t agree more. I basically had to ditch sweet altogether, because it leads to very bad things for me. I wrote about this a while back. I’ve personally even had to demonize fruit for the most part :(

  8. James Hardiman 15 December 2009 at 3:52 pm #

    OK, as far as that goes, but you don’t mention Stevia as a sweetening alternative.

    Not, sugar, not artificial.

    I have no connection with stevia (other than I bring it back from the USA whenever I go).

    Never heard of stevia? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stevia

  9. Wuzza Fattie 17 December 2009 at 4:02 am #

    I’ve done the yo-yo diet routine with Atkins, using artificial sweeteners heavily. I would always go back tot he carbs after the weight loss and, as expected, gain back much of the weight. I have been on Atkins again since June and have lost over 20lbs. This time I gave up sweets altogether. I need to retrain my affections and this is the only way it’ll work in the long run. People didn’t eat lots of sweets a generation ago, now they’re commonplace. What was formerly freakish behaviour (eating lots of sweets and being 40lbs overweight) is now normal. Avoiding sweets and being within 10lbs of ones ideal BMI is now freakish. How the tables have turned!

    Here’s an admittedly unscientific test of the generation statement in the last paragraph… look at photos of great golfers from the past (hogan, bobby jones, etc.). Take a close look at the people in the gallery. Compare it to the people watching Tiger Woods tee it up. It’s absolutely stunning! No fatties and a few chubbies in the old photos; most chubbies and more than a few morbidly obese in the new photos!

  10. Don Wiss 23 January 2010 at 12:03 am #

    I gave up sugar and sweets four decades ago. I haven’t eaten chocolate in a couple decades. I can assure you that one loses all interest in sweet foods. I think of it like a drug that you become tolerant to. You need to consume more and more to get the same effect. Once reset your taste buds will let you know when fruit is ripe, which would be the purpose of the sweetness ability.

  11. ET 28 January 2010 at 3:15 pm #

    Years ago my wife would sometimes complain that something was “too sweet” and I had no idea what she was talking about. Over the last 18 months I eliminated any added sugar or artifical sweeteners and my taste preferences have changed. I did lose the craving for sweets and gained something else. I now experience an adverse reaction to eating too much sugar. My blood pressure rockets and I feel nauseous.

    I guess the good news is that I don’t need to be virtuous to avoid sugar. I now have an aversion to it. I aso agree that regular dark chocolate is too sweet.

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  1. I’m a secret lemonade drinker… « Nigee's Diet & Nutrition Blog - 30 December 2009

    [...] sound a bit like drug addicts trying/failing to get their fixes? As Dr John Briffa commented on Losing the taste for sweetness trumps using ‘healthy’ sweeteners, in my book, “Most animals, it turns out, chose saccharin over cocaine. [...]

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