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 . 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 . 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.
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