Thursday, 22 May 2014

Sweet as (artificial) Sugar

Today's post is a little bit unusual because it's also being assessed as a university assignment. I am currently doing this great biochemistry course which encourages you to get creative with communicating science (which you know I am all about) and for this particular assignment I chose to make a blog post! Anyway, it won't really be any different from my usual posts, but I felt sneaky writing it without letting you all know!
Dress is DIY | cape is DIY | shoes and socks are from Japan | bag from Twinkie Chan | brooch is DIY

Is diet coke bad for you? Are artificial sweeteners a magic fix to our sugar-rich diets or are they something to watch out for?
At Uni I have been studying metabolism, and something which has been of particular interest to me is artificial sweeteners - think diet coke and Sweet'n Low -  and what effects they might have on weightloss and eating behaviour. So today I'm going to explain what we currently know about artificial sweeteners - are they safe and should you consume them?
"Non-nutritive" sweeteners - also known as artificial sugars, non-caloric sugar and sugar substitutes - are hundreds of times sweeter (or 13,000x sweeter in the case of neotame) than table sugar, and because of this when you use them in foods you can use a smaller amount to achieve the same level of sweetness. Because you're using a smaller amount, you add less calories to your meal. This is why diet coke and "coke zero" are virtually sugar-free.
Some sweeteners are made of things like amino acids instead of sugar (so they are slightly calorific, but still much less so than sugar), whereas others like Sucralose are modified sugars that aren't recognized as food by the body (i.e. they don't enter into glycolysis, the body's mechanism of turning sugar into something that can be used by the body for energy) so these add zero calories to a meal.

Artificial sugars are very useful for diabetics because it allows them to consume sweet things without worrying about their blood-sugar levels shooting through the roof. More recently they've also been promoted by dieticians as a way to lower calorie intake to prevent and counteract obesity.
This is because dietary guidelines have been getting stricter on the amount of sugar that you should consume, with more evidence now pointing towards sugars, not fat, as the greatest contributor to diabetes and heart disease. So if you can replace much of the sugar in your diet with a substitute, you can still enjoy all your sugary foods with no ill effects - right?
Well, one potential problem with artificial sweeteners is something called "compensatory behaviours". This means that if you choose a diet coke over a regular, sugary coke, you then might also think "well, I guess I'm allowed to eat that whole pizza now because my coke was calorie-free!" Or, it could also be the case that your body simply doesn't get enough energy from your diet coke, so you search out more sugary foods. Obviously, this would negate any weight-loss effects of the artificial sweeteners. While this effect has been studied, no one has been able to come up with concrete, conclusive evidence either supporting or dismissing this potential problem.
Another possible problem is toxicity - could artificial sweeteners actually be bad for you? There have been a number of headline-grabbing articles that would suggest they're really bad - deadly, even - but these studies have suffered from poor methodology and have often leapt to unsupported conclusions. There's a pervasive myth (and internet hoax) that an artificial sugar called aspartame causes a whole range of diseases including MS, neurological disorders and epilepsy - which has been thoroughly debunked. Hundreds of high-quality studies have been done to demonstrate the safety of aspartame, and it is approved by regulatory bodies such as the FDA (food and drug administration). However, there are also studies that suggest that high-doses of artificial sugars can cause cancer. 

In rats. 

Which brings me to my next point: always be very weary about news stories reporting on studies using rats and mice when they say that those findings are absolutely applicable to humans, especially in the case of cancer. Turns out that particular strains of lab rats get cancer really, really easily. The artificial sweeteners that are widely used have been so thoroughly studied that we know they're not carcinogenic - and as long as you don't go crazy and consume about 100 diet sodas per day, you're going to be fine.
So what can be concluded about artificial sweeteners? Well, as all reputable studies regarding diets and fat/sugar substitutes seem to conclude - these may help you if you have a specific requirement (such as trying to lose weight). Just don't go crazy - anything in excess is bad for you. And as always, do a decent amount of exercise and eat a balanced diet.

Here's a link to a review paper for further reading!

(And if you found that interesting, you can also read part 1 and part 2 of my introduction to biochemistry).







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22 comments:

  1. I've been drinking artificially sweetened beverages over sugary ones since high school mostly because sugary beverages make my teeth feel weird! Drinking a regular soda feels like instant tooth sweater! I've never made excuses for swapping food for my "diet" beverages, but I do occasionally catch myself craving candy when I generally dislike sugary foods! I try to stay conscious of the effects of drinking artificial sweeteners (like craving actual sugar) and substitute with fruit instead. Very well done, I hope you get a good grade! ^_^

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    1. Thank you so much! :D
      Actually, a lot of dentists promote artificial sugars like Xylitol because it has an anticariogenic (anti-cavity) effect. So it is definitely a good thing for your teeth :)
      And yeah, there has been research into the possibility that artificial sugars could cause you to form sugar-craving habits (even though you're not eating actual sugars), so they could potentially cause more problems than they solve.
      I'm glad you liked my post! :)

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  2. Wow!!!!!!!! coooooooool

    http://malohatbb.blogspot.ru/

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  3. I'm a T1 diabetic, so although I *can* eat sugar, I avoid it because I like to try and keep my overall carb consumption low so I don't have to use as much insulin and then run the risk of developing insulin resistance ^___^ I used natural non-sugar substitutes for cooking and using at home (like Natvia), but it's good to know that my love for Coke Zero isn't a terrible, awful thing ~___^

    I love your whole outfit too, by the way! Have you seen the new kitty donut hairpieces Twinkie Chan has been making? I think one of those would go well with this look! ^___^

    Good luck on your assignment! I hope you get a great mark! ^___^

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    1. Wow, I don't know a lot about diabetes so I didn't realise you could still develop insulin resistance AFTER getting it if you had the type-1 version (so I've just read up all about it, because i'm super curious about things like that) (also, *hello* from another auto-immune disease suffer, whaaat uppp *high five* haha).
      Aww man, I just looked up those kitty donut hairpieces!! Nooo wayyyy they are far too cute! ^__^ I want to own literally everything that twinkie chan makes. For some reason I've never had the inclination to learn how to crochet, but perhaps I should - you can make such cool things!

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  4. I love your science-y posts! (dear assignment markers: Annika has been getting creative with communicating science news long before you told her to! extra points for that?)

    Another behaviour I've noticed to do with artificial sweeteners is that people who use them get into the habit of eating or drinking sweet things often. So if someone gets a diet coke to have with their lunch every day, then one day the diet option isn't available, they'll go for regular coke rather than just getting water because they're in the habit of having something sweet and fizzy at lunch time. same goes for artificially sweetened snacks, and putting artificial sweeteners in tea or coffee. If the cafe doesn't have any equal, you'll put sugar in instead. I know some people just have 'the sweet tooth', but surely it's better to just wean yourself off sweet things and only have them as an occasional treat?

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    1. Ahh thank you so much, Ali! :D
      Yeah, I think that's such a great point! Sweet food is probably still habit-forming, regardless of whether they are made with real sugar or not. The research into this is really inconclusive, apparently, because it's quite a hard thing to study! But anecdotally, I am totally with you - I tell my boyfriend to stop drinking so much diet coke for exactly this reason, haha (he has SUCH a sweet tooth)

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  5. I drink diet drinks because my mom is allergic to corn (and corn syrup) so when I was younger I acquired the taste for diet sodas. I can't stand the taste of normal sodas even to this day. And considering I lost 90 after a bad injury and the following depression while drinking diet drinks I don't buy the thought drinking diet makes people gain weight.

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    1. Sorry forgot to add, very interesting post though. It was a good read. I love your purse too, I crochet and I love making food items :) It's my way to indulge in sweets, crochet them for little girls to play with.

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  6. Your hair looks awesome and I love this outfit.
    The information you've provided about artificial sweeteners is really interesting as well - thank you for being all about the facts and always sharing your knowledge. Fear-mongering is such a prevalent issue and the less we contribute, the better. :)

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  7. First of all, in LOVE with this dress and whole outfit, and you're such a clever girl for having a thematic outfit to go along with this post. I'm so glad you posted about this, because my mom went all cuckoo about me having diet sodas or using Splenda every once in a while. Glad to hear that, like everything else, it seems to be okay in moderation!!

    xox Sammi
    www.thesoubrettebrunette.blogspot.com

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  8. the shoe/sock combo is so perfect!

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

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  9. I always felt artificial sweeteners were a bit weird I have the have the unhealthy thing or don't; rather than have an in-between 'it's good for you but not'. But I don't have the problem with coke or anything cause I can't drink any of it due to stomach problems. I've just been a bit uneasy about any artificially created foods like sweetners but I guess they're not as bad a many people make out. Cute look, really love the bag and shoes. I really want to try and incorporate science into my posts in the future but I don't really know how <3

    The Quirky Queer

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  10. Awesome blog post as always!

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  11. I liked your article, especially since you broke down the various "non-calorie" sweeteners. I am a big health food nut, and I can't say I am against non-caloric sweeteners. But in general the artificial ones don't sit well with me. Although I know I won't die from cancer from drinking Diet Coke, I just don't feel as well as I could be when I drink it. I've been drinking it on and off again for awhile and found that I have more migraines when drinking Diet Coke, but I think that is more about the Coke (and less about the diet aspect) I do consume other lower calorie sweeteners like Xylitol and Stevia, but only in small amounts (like in gum, mints, and occasionally to sweeten a drink). I guess what I am trying to say is sometimes the problem is that artificial sweeteners are often used in super processed foods, which probably are not the best to begin with.

    Plus I am fairly certain that the more sugar you eat, the more you expect. I work at a juice bar where I get some customers ask for sugar to add to their juice. o___O It kills me to give them some (and most of the time I just lie and say we don't have any XD) but it is because store bought juices are more condensed or do have sugar added. Then on the flip side, some customers will only drink all veggie drinks, and will complain how some of the juices we make are too sweet.

    I am glad you mentioned how tests with foods are really inconsistent or hard to gather information about. I always read reports about how soy is bad for you, coffee is bad for you, fat is bad for you, and then a few minutes later I will read how it is really good for you. Rats and mice aren't humans, and humans tend to be inconsistent.

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  12. Wonderful summary about artificial sweeteners! This is such a cool assignment for biochemistry - none of my assignments were ever this exciting!

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  13. I learnt a lot from this post! Whoever is assessing Annika's assignment give her a really good grade please!!!!

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  14. One thing I've read about artificial sweeteners is that some actually taste sweeter to us and may cause us to crave more and more sweet flavors/more sugar because of that. I'm on the anything in moderation train though. I really loved this post and how you incorporated sweets into your outfit. So so cute! The print on your dress is seriously the best ever.
    Hope you get a great grade on this assignment!

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  15. That Slurpee bag is way too cool. Also, if you could, where did you get that fabric from? It's way too amazing and sweet with an interesting touch with the pretzels.

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  16. lovely post :) I really enjoy reading your blog! haha keep in touch x Peach

    http://momomoworld.blogspot.com

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  17. I get REALLY bad migraines from aspartame. Or if it's in candy, very sick feeling and light-headness. In alcohol it makes a hangover last for two days and makes me feel very depressed. So I would not give it to my child etc. Stevia is OK but not very tasty. Xylitol is the greatest after every meal to protect teeth.

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