The bittersweet truth: Unravelling the link between sweeteners, weight gain and insulin

The bittersweet truth: Unravelling the link between sweeteners, weight gain and insulin

Western diets are often regarded to be dense in calories, largely from added sugars, leading to an imbalance in energy intake and expenditure. Added sugars are presently contributing about 20% for males and 15% for women of daily energy intake – many added calories without contributing a lot of nutrients. Common non sugar sweeteners (monk fruit, stevia, sucralose and aspartame and xylitol just to name a few) are considered a popular alternative to sugar as people can enjoy the sweet taste in foods with a reduction in calories. As more customers demand foods with less added sugars, the food industry has been using more artificial sweeteners to substitute sugar. 

Recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised against the use of artificial sweeteners as they don't offer any long-term benefits in reducing body fat. So what is their role and how do they compare to sugar?

When we consume typical sugar (glucose or fructose), the taste buds sense the sweetness and the pancreas produces insulin to break down the sugars. The problem is that if we continually consume high amounts of sugar, we get repeated insulin spikes that cause our cells’ insulin receptors  to get worn out and not function well. When this happens, our cells aren’t able to absorb the sugars they need, and this can lead to type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases. 

Although the body does not recognise artificial sweeteners as sugar, they still act on our sweet taste buds. It has been proposed that just the sensory perception of sweetness can lead to a release of insulin, referred to as the ‘cephalic phase of insulin secretion’. Despite having minimal effect on blood sugars, artificial sweeteners have been shown to raise insulin levels, sometimes higher even than regular sugar. In addition, when our body gets ‘sweet’ signals, it also releases feeding hormones in anticipation of the sugary food or beverage, which can cause increased feelings of hunger and sugar cravings. 

When blood sugar levels are high, insulin helps bring them back down by signalling the cell receptors to store excess sugar as glycogen in the liver or use it for energy.

Other studies have shown a link between artificial sweetener intake and gut microbiome imbalance. 
For some people, the perception of eating foods with less calories due to this substitution will trigger the brain’s reward centre, which may increase the overall food consumption, as well as increase appetite and food cravings. 

Studies often imply that neither sugars or artificial sweeteners are the healthier option, and instead, limiting their intake remains recommended. Artificial sweeteners lack any nutritional value and are non-essential in the diet just like sugar. New Zealand dieticians suggest using them as 'transitional' products, as a means to reduce sugar consumption. These sweeteners themselves do not directly cause weight loss. Instead, changing individual behaviour and desensitising taste buds to sugar are encouraged. With three weeks of retraining, the tongue becomes more sensitive to natural sugars in food, aiding in reducing overall food intake and associated cravings.
NB: for patients with diabetes, artificial sweeteners can still be recommended, but the same message is encouraged: the less used the better. 

Calocurb is scientifically proven to reduce the feeling of hunger and general food cravings after only one hour of taking the capsule. The active ingredient of Amarasate will stimulate the natural release of satiety hormones such as GLP-1, PYY and CCK to make you feel fuller for longer. This could alleviate the cravings for sugary foods which could be a helpful substitute for sugar or artificial sweeteners and promote healthy weight management. 


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