Health Insider: Artificial Sweeteners – The Sweet Betrayal

May 25, 2016

This week we have Karley Neyenhuys of Complete You joining us once more! Karley has recently started her own blog where she shares delicious recipes and lifestyle advice. She is very kindly sharing one of those articles today. Karley is an Exercise Physiologist, Nutritionist, Biologist and Health Educator based in Sydney.

Yes, that Diet Coke can be preventing you from losing weight. So when offered a sugar substitute that provides the same, and in most cases more sweetness, but no kilojoules, it’s pretty hard to say no.  

You can have the cake, minus the kilojoules; it’s a no-brainer. More than likely if you have a high sugar diet, and switched to foods that are labeled “diet”, “low- sugar” or “sugar- free” because they contain artificial sugars, I am confident that you will probably lose weight. But what are the side effects? Strong research shows that, while consuming these products may be a short-term quick fix for weight- loss,  that eventually the body starts gaining even more weight.

But before we understand the artificial stuff, let’s understand what sugar is and does.

Sugar is a carbohydrate; obtained from natural sources such as sugarcane and sugar- beet.  The most basic molecular form of sugar is referred to as  monosaccharides, which includes  glucose and fructose. During digestion,  carbohydrates are converted to glucose. With the hormone insulin, which regulates cellular uptake, they are stored in different parts of our body for later use (energy). Fructose, is the sugar found in fruits, vegetables and honey, is actually sweeter than glucose.  


Disaccharides consist of two monosaccharides; the most common of which are found on your table, namely:

  • sucrose (a glucose and fructose molecule),
  • lactose found in milk and
  • maltose from the grains of barley.   

Polysaccharides are your complex carbohydrates, consisting of many chains of monosaccharides.  Starch is an example of complex carbohydrates; potatoes, rice, wheat and maize have a high amount of starch. Glycogen is another example; our glucose is stored as glycogen in our liver cells and muscle cells.  It is converted back to glucose by another hormone called glucagon when required for energy .  If your liver and muscles are full of glycogen, then your liver will send any excess glucose to your fat cells to be stored as fat.  The liver, can also covert glucose to cholesterol.

So understanding that by eating too much sugar and not moving enough to burn it off will lead to weight gain and increase your risk of diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol.  It is easy to be fooled by the food industries’ propaganda.  Supermarket shelves are lined with endless options of diet products.  

The sweeteners found in Australia are usually labeled on the food packaging as an additive with a number.  I will highlight the most common that you will find in the supermarket. For a full list, check out this website.

Acesulphame – K (950)

Found in a lot of your diet soft drinks including Coke Zero, V Sugar-free, Pepsi Max,  diet dairy products such as Nestle’ Diet Yogurt, Yoplait Forme yogurt and,  in sugar-free sweeteners like Equal spoon for spoon, CSR smart sticks.

Aspartame (951)

Also found in soft drinks like Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Sprite Zero, Nestlé Diet yoghurt, Yoplait Forme yoghurt. Also found in tabletop sweeteners Be Light (Aldi), and Equal

Saccharin (954)

Found in Aeroplane Jelly Lite, Weight Watchers fruit in jelly, and tabletop sweeteners such as Sugarella and Sugarine.


So what are the effects of these artificial sweeteners?

My first response; they have no nutritional value, why consume them?

When you consume something sweet, artificial or not, your taste buds are stimulated and the brain signals your pancreas to start releasing insulin, as sugar should be arriving soon.  But if it is artificial, nothing comes, so your body starts to crave more because it feels it has not been satisfied, since your metabolism has been tricked.  Artificial sweeteners can therefore increase appetite, making  you crave more sugary foods.

Increased levels of insulin are intended to store excess sugars but will now store any sugar that arrives, and a lot of this contributes to increased body weight and increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.  It slows your metabolism and increases fat storage.

Other serious concerns arise from the chemical nature of these substances. Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) contains a carcinogenic chemical called methylene chloride. Evidence shows that long-term exposure to this chemical is likely linked to visual disturbances, headaches, depression, liver, kidney disease and cancer.   Studies have shown that rats develop bladder cancer when consuming saccharin.  Although no evidence has been found in humans, it’s enough to put me off.

Probably the most talked about artificial sweetener is aspartame. The FDA has reported that aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives.  These reactions can include headaches, dizziness, depression, nausea, changes in vision, irritability, heart palpitations, weight gain, memory loss and fatigue. Another concern is that aspartame contains phenylalanine, an amino acid normally found in the brain. However, in individuals with the genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU) they are unable to metabolize phenylalanine. You will notice that diet products will have written on the packaging that it contains phenylalanine. Research has shown that healthy individuals who do not have PKU, but consume high amounts of aspartame, have high levels of phenylalanine in the brain.  The side- effect of this is decreased levels of serotonin, which leads to depression. Aspartame also contains Aspartic acid, which acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Too much aspartate however, will kill certain neurons.

So in conclusion, there is no point in consuming diet drinks or foods that contain artificial substances. They provide no nutritional value, but instead can contribute to increased weight gain and have other adverse health effects.  

Simply enjoy healthy nutritious foods that has natural sweetness such as honey, natural maple syrup, fruits such as raisins,, bananas and dates, and spices, for example cinnamon and nutmeg.

I try, wherever possible, to use these natural sweeteners in my recipes.


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