By Reem Abdulrahman Jassim al-Muftah
I wrote an article discussing the truth about artificial sweeteners a few months ago and in the article I explained how one should use these sweeteners if we choose to incorporate them into our diets. The thing is though, I still keep getting so many questions about Stevia, its benefits and if there is any risk in having it. Stevia, as with all the other artificial sweeteners should only be used in moderation. Numerous artificial sweeteners are FDA approved and have zero to low calories, but there are actual negative long-term effects associated to the consistent intake of these ‘healthier’ sweeteners, especially since Stevia is so popular and common in products as well as used in so many restaurants and cafes too.
Sweeteners could be a better option for those trying to maintain their weight or trying to lose weight, but an important thing to note is that there have only been a few studies looking at the short-term effects of artificial sweeteners and overall health and most are inconclusive as there aren’t any studies looking at the long-term effects. Therefore, there is no conclusive evidence to prove these sweeteners are safer or better than sugar in the long-run. Yes, so many people have seen good weight loss result when substituting Stevia or other sweeteners, but that is only a short-term result. Now try to remember the way you experience a sweet treat, as soon as our taste buds detect sweetness, they alert our brain that calories are on their way into the body. The brain then sends signals to the pancreas to prepare the release of insulin which breaks down sugar and sends it out to different parts of the body to use as energy and stores the rest as fat for energy to be used later. In the absence of sugar, this leads to over-production of insulin and can potentially lead to insulin resistance where the insulin no longer responds correctly to glucose, possibly leading to diabetes. Another concern is that when using artificial sweeteners instead of sugar, it can potentially lead to overeating or sugar cravings later.
When we look at the long-term studies done on lab rats, the rats were given artificial sweeteners leading to more sugar cravings, leading to overeating and ultimately weight gain. When we look at short-term studies, the ‘healthier options’ made humans crave real sugar more and eat foods with a higher calorie count as was revealed in the numerous animal studies. These sweeteners also do not increase our blood sugar levels like real sugar does and this causes the pancreas to respond differently; the pancreas is ready to work once sweetness is detected but with the absence of actual sugar it leads to abnormal pancreas functioning and can easily cause pancreas related diseases and diabetes. Even when digesting sweeteners, the microorganisms in our stomachs that help us break down food become less able to break down real sugars the more that they are exposed to the ‘healthier options.’
In conclusion, stevia is not dangerous per say but when not used in moderation and without a balance of real sugar intake, you might need to monitor your health more. Lots of clinicians also associate these sweeteners with addiction habits as people have started to dislike most foods unless they are as sweet as these artificial sweeteners; even when the lab rats were made to choose between a recreational drug and artificial sweeteners, the rats actually chose the sweeteners over the recreational drug, that’s how addictive they are! So yes, use these sweeteners if you really must, but please use it in moderation and balance it with having a minimal amount of real sugar to keep your body in order.
*The author is a wellness advocate and influencer @keys2balance.
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