A growing number of scientific studies are showing, paradoxically, that the use of various non-nutritive sweeteners (NNSs) may actually promote weight gain. One survey of over 78,000 women found that NNS users were more likely to gain weight than were non-users; a long-term study in Texas showed that people who consumed more artificially sweetened beverages were much more likely to be overweight or obese.
The exact mechanism by which low-calorie sweeteners lead to weight gain is still a scientific puzzle. One leading theory is that, by dissociating sweetness from calories, NNSs confuse the body’s regulatory mechanisms. That is, when a person tastes something sweet that contains few calories, the taste fails to evoke the normal psychobiological responses that serve to regulate energy balance and signal when to stop eating.
Another possible explanation for the association between NNSs and weight gain may be that artificial sweeteners change the intestinal environment and trigger inflammatory processes that are associated with metabolic disorders.
Finally, recently discovered sweet-taste receptors in the gut might explain the association of NNSs with weight gain. According to this theory, when certain gut receptors sense sugar, they trigger the release of hormones that stimulate insulin secretion and a feeling of satiety. Human studies have indicated that glucose, but not NNSs, may trigger these normal hormonal responses.
The next time you have a hankering for a sweet substance, try one of these natural alternatives.
Honey A chemically complex food with over 180 components, honey is a natural and highly versatile sweetener. Studies have shown that unpasteurized honey may be able to inhibit the effects of toxic substances present in the body. Honey is commonly drizzled over fruit, yogourt, or desserts and used in baking and cooking.
Stevia Stevia is a powdered extract that comes from a shrub called Stevia rebaudiana. Unlike other natural sweeteners, it is very low in calories. While not currently approved for use in foods sold in Canada, stevia can be sold as a health supplement as long as its label does not contain a health claim.
Coconut palm sugar A natural sweetener from Southeast Asia, coconut palm sugar is low on the glycemic index, which makes it a good choice for people who are watching their weight and their glucose levels. Coconut palm sugar cooks, dissolves, and melts like regular sugar, but has a rich flavour similar to brown sugar. It is a rich source of potassium, zinc, and iron as well as vitamins C and B1.
Maple syrup Maple syrup is a sweet substance derived from the sap of maple trees; it has fewer calories and a lower glycemic load than honey, and is a dietary source of manganese and zinc. Its distinctive earthy, sweet taste pairs perfectly with pancakes and waffles, but it is also commonly used as a sweetener in desserts and baked goods.