A new study out of Canada just confirmed what nutritionists have been saying all along: Artificial sweeteners are terrible for your health. After following over 400,000 participants across a 10-year period, researchers with the Canadian Medical Association concluded that regular consumption of “nonnutritive sweeteners” (i.e., diet, zero-calorie beverages and all sugar alternatives delivered in light pink, baby blue and yellow paper packaging) is “associated with increases in weight and waist circumference, and higher incidence of obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular events.” Unless you’re training for a marathon or headed to SoulCycle, we assume everyone should aim to avoid “cardiovascular events” of any kind.
In short, all calories—or, in this case, absence of calories—are not created “equal.” But why?
Some studies suggest that, because artificial sweeteners are 300 to 600 times sweeter than actual sugar, even random consumption can trigger increased cravings for sugary foods. This means that while one zero-cal soda with lunch isn’t directly sabotaging your daily dietary goals, it could be the reason you’re reaching for a calorie-laden cookie at 3 pm. It’s also fairly well known by this point that the brain isn’t fooled by fake foods, which do little to quell hunger. Scientific American explained this really well back in 2013:
“From engagement mechanisms of the brain’s central taste pathways, to uniquely altering the food reward-system response, we are learning that substituting one sweet taste for another by switching from sugar to artificial sweetener does not fool the brain. This brilliant organ knows the real deal even if your taste buds can’t detect the difference.”
Perhaps most distressing is that artificial sweeteners can be found almost everywhere, from baby food to vitamins and, of course, in sugar-free gum. So, if you’re trying to lose weight, or just not gain weight, or simply want to live your best life as a healthy human being, opt for real foods in their most natural form. A daily dose of antioxidant-rich raw honey, for example, has been shown to support the immune system, block disease-causing free radicals and improve sleep.