I read an article the other day that Jenna Jameson lost 60 pounds doing Keto. Minus the tattoos, she looks every bit the part I remember from those VHS tapes I hid from my mom all those years ago.
It seems like yesterday when fat was the enemy? Eating fat caused people to get fat, increase their risk of heart disease and was the smoking gun to everything bad.
Now it’s the best thing since double ply toilet paper.
Come to find out, it’s not fat that was dishing out heart attacks on the reg or made people’s bellies grow. It was shitty eating habits and lack of movement. Who knew?
Well my friend, we are in the midst of the same thing happening. This time artificial sweeteners are getting the short end of the stick.
Do a quick Google search and you’ll find Dr. Dickhead condemning artificial sweeteners and news outlets beating you over the head with clickbait headlines like:
Could easily switch artificial sweetener with literally any food.
Which conveniently is all the major ones.
Ohh a study, must be true.
All this does is to put fear in your mind so when Dr Dickhead comes out with a new book or some magical fat loss diet that is based on super secret science you scoop it up.
Fuck that guy.
As an avid Diet Mountain Dew drinker this type of crap annoys the hell outta me. Making it sound like you’d be better off drinking gasoline than diet soda.
I’ll give it to them, I should be drinking water instead. It’s fake sugar in neon green water. And yea it’s mostly chemicals. But you forget to realize an important fact. They are delicious chemicals.
So let’s take a little journey to see if artificial sweeteners are as bad as the media portrays or if they are just trying to get views and clicks.
In the interest of time, I’m only going to hit the big ones approved by the FDA:
Acesulfame potassium aka Ace-K (Sunett)
Aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal)
Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
I’m going to leave out Stevia because it’s a natural sweetener and not subject to all the hate…yet.
THE CHECKERED PAST OF ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
To really get a grasp of what’s going on, we should look at how artificial sweeteners came to be. Walk with me through a little history. Let’s start with the O.G. of artificial sweeteners, Saccharin.
Russian chemist, Constantin Fahlberg was eating dinner when he found his bread tasted sweet. After going back to his lab and tasting a bunch of chemicals he found out the sweetness came from benzoic sulfide. He filed the patent and Saccharin was born as an alternative to sugar.
Let the shit storm begin.
Dr. Harvey Wiley, became the Chief of the USDA’s Chemical Division after the Pure Food and Drug Act was signed in 1906. This act basically was to prevent food and drug manufacturers from selling you poisonous stuff. Seems odd it took until 1906 to pass a law like this.
Dr. Wiley ran experiments with civil servants in exchange for free room and board if they would eat food heavily laced with different chemical preservatives. He would then study their urine and poop to assess impact to the body. One of the preservatives he tested was saccharin.
President Teddy Roosevelt put a stop to the testing because he was using it to manage his weight. “Anyone who says saccharin is injurious to health is an idiot”. Well played Mr. President.
Michael Sveda, a student chemist, combined cyclamate and saccharin together to cut down the bitter, metallic taste that saccharin has alone. It became the basis for Sweet ‘N Low and diet soda.
A study was published showing that high doses of cyclamates given to rats gave them bladder cancer and urinary, lung, stomach and reproductive tumors. Sweet ‘N Low switched to an all saccharin version but it was too late.
Congress decreed anything that contained saccharin needed to have the warning “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.
Oh schnaap, shots fired.
Come to find out, the rats that were used in that 1977 study are frequently infected with a parasite that would leave it susceptible to bladder cancer. Studies were then done using primates and humans only to find no bladder tumors were produced.
Oops, my b.
Congress removed the warning label but the stigma still sticks today.
WOW, THAT’S SOME SHITTY CHEMIST
Since the others have a less interesting past along with shitty laboratory safety protocols let’s combine them.
Chemist James Schlatter licked his fingers after being in the lab and Aspartame was born.
Karl Clauss licked his fingers after being in the lab and acesulfame potassium (aka acesulfame K or Ace-K) was born.
Shashikant Phadnis licked his fingers and Sucralose was born.
The famous San Antonio Heart Study (linked below) found a correlation between diet soda consumption and weight gain. Therefore, the headlines read “Artificial sweeteners = weight gain.”
A study suggested that drinking more than 1,680 mg of artificial sweetener could increase the risk of bladder cancer. BTW that is like 10 cans of Diet Coke everyday.
A review of studies showed that people who used artificial sweeteners over timed gained more weight, had a larger waist and higher chances of hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and heart attacks.
Bladder cancer, hypertension, diabetes and heart attacks…kinda easy to see why people go ape-shit over this stuff, right?
Which brings us to a very important question… if artificial sweeteners are this bad, why are they still legal?
To answer that, you need to read between the lines of the headlines. We need to look at correlation vs causation.
CORRELATION VS. CAUSATION
There is a fine line when it comes to interpreting results. One makes sense, like breathing in water will cause you to drown, smoking ruins your lungs and not switching hands will cause one forearm to be bigger than the other. This is causation. One thing directly causes another.
Then there’s correlation.
Correlation is when two things seem to be related but one doesn’t directly cause the other. Since I find this topic endlessly funny, here are some examples:
It seems odd people that watch Nick Cage movies lose the ability to swim.
Maybe Jaws was really all about a shark trying to get some ice cream.
Obviously, ice cream doesn’t cause shark attacks. What does though, is the fact that people go swimming in the ocean more during the warmer months. Consequently, warmer weather is when people tend to eat more ice cream. Therefore, we can conclude that warmer weather directly causes more ice cream consumption and shark attacks.
But if we switched out ice cream to put in artificial sweeteners, the headlines would read “Artificial Sweeteners linked to Shark Attacks.” The media does this all the time to get you to click on their article.
So taking this back to the studies that conclude artificial sweeteners cause weight gain, this seems a lot like correlation to me. Mainly due to something called the Halo Effect with food.
The Halo Effect with food is essentially when someone does something healthy and goes nuts on the other end. For example, ordering a Diet Coke with a supersized Big Mac meal. Or since you went to the gym today you eat a whole cheesecake after dinner.
People that drink diet soda feel good that they are doing something healthy by reducing calories. However, this usually means they make it up later because they feel they “earned it”. So in reality it’s not the diet soda that causes weight gain, it’s shitty eating habits.
Hmmm, I wonder where I’ve seen that before.
This Halo Effect, along with some piss poor study design, is more than likely the cause of weight gain with the subjects of the San Antonio study that most artificial sweetener haters usually cite.
To date, artificial sweeteners have not been shown to cause weight gain. The correlation is there, but correlation doesn’t equal causation.
DO THEY CAUSE CANCER?
I restricted this article to FDA approved artificial sweeteners because I’m familiar with the approval process from the biotech/drug side of the world. Other sweeteners are about as reliable as the cocaine you buy from that nice drug dealer in the shady part of town.
In order for something to get FDA approval, companies need to have tons of technical and safety data.
Technical data consist of things like where it’s manufactured, chemical properties and stability. Safety data comes from animal toxicology studies which sets the limits for the level adverse effects based on the data. This level is known as the No Observable Adverse Effect Level (aka NOAEL). Then acceptable daily limit (ADI) is set below that.
ADI represents a daily intake that, if maintained over a lifetime, is 100 times lower than amounts found to be safe in studies designed to detect potential safety risks.
The NOAEL for aspartame was set at 4g/kg/bodyweight/day from animal toxicology studies. For us ‘Muricans, this is roughly 1.82g/lb per day. To give you some context, a 200 lb man would have to drink 1,941 cans of Diet Coke a day to have an adverse effect . You’d drown before you even came close.
So the ADI of aspartame was set at 50 mg/kg (22.7mg/lb) in the U.S. Our 200 lb male would have to drink 24 cans of Diet Coke a day for a lifetime to hit that number and still not see an adverse effect.
For saccharin, the ADI is 15mg/kg/bw/d (6.8mg/lb): to reach the ADI you would have to use 38 Sweet ‘N Low packets everyday for a lifetime.
For acesulfame-K, the ADI is 15mg/kg (6.8mg/lb). To reach this, you’d have to drink 40 cans of Diet Sprite everyday for a lifetime.
For sucralose,the ADI is 5 mg/kg (2.27mg/lb). You’d have to drink 11 cans of Pepsi One everyday for a lifetime.
There’s also no evidence that artificial sweeteners cause adverse effects like cancer. Unless of course you are an asshole about it.
The take home point here is that yes, artificial sweeteners are toxic. In huge quantities they can do some damage. However, so can anything taken to excess.
To illustrate my previous statement, I think we can all agree that water is good, right? It’s essential to you living. There is no debating this. Well, at certain levels water is toxic. Too much water consumption too quickly can throw your electrolyte balance off and cause death. This is called hyponatremia.
So there. Everything is toxic at a point. Don’t vilify artificial sweeteners because they have a published toxicity limit.
But if you refuse to click my links, here’s the Reader’s Digest version:
When insulin is spiked, fat loss is shut down in order for the insulin to shuttle the glucose to muscles, liver, fat cells. So by having elevated levels of insulin you essentially shut off fat burning for extended periods of time. This is good if you want to get fat, not so good if you want to lose the gut.
Since artificial sweeteners are sweet, people think they spike insulin and make you fat. Well they don’t.
A study, conducted over 12 weeks enrolled 50 people to drink a carbonated aspartame and ace-k sweetened drink (similar to diet soda) and a no calorie carbonated drink. After 4 weeks the groups stopped having the drinks, and started a “washout” period for 4 weeks where neither of the drinks were consumed. Then the groups switched drinks for the final 4 weeks.
There were no difference in insulin levels. Meaning, they don’t spike insulin.
Insulin’s job is to shuttle glucose out of the blood stream. If there is no glucose to move from the bloodstream insulin secretion stops. This is what happens with artificial sweeteners. Since we anticipate sugar before we drink the diet soda our pancreas readies the troops and secretes some insulin to get ahead of the sugary rush it thinks is coming. Then when no glucose is seen in the bloodstream, secretion stops.
Think of this as a slow drip to get a head start.
When you eat real sugar, the pancreas will still ready the troops and secrete a little insulin into the bloodstream. It’s not until the sugars are digested and broken down into glucose that insulin secretion is spiked to maintain the blood sugar levels to get the glucose out.
YOUR GUT HEALTH
Now, there is some chatter about artificial sweeteners disrupting the microbiome in your gut.
Your microbiome are little tiny bacteria in your intestines that digest the food you eat. If they are working good and are happy, you digest things and your body functions as it should. If they are disturbed or not functioning properly, this can lead to nutritional deficiencies or food intolerances.
The growing chatter around artificial sweeteners that are truly calorie free, like sucralose which isn’t broken down in the body, may be disrupting your gut microbiome. However, we don’t know yet if this is causation or correlation. The research is still too early to draw that conclusion.
WRAP IT UP B
With all the research to date, artificial sweeteners will not riddle you with cancer, tumors, or cause you to gain weight. They may disrupt your gut health but the research isn’t there to make a definitive decision yet.
Obviously, if artificial sweeteners don’t agree with you, don’t use them. Some people complain of headaches or bloating. But for the others, in moderation, everything seems OK to use them.
Shitty eating habits and lack of movement are still the root causes of all the obesity problems we have today not artificial sweeteners.
Now I’m going to have a my black coffee with 2 Equals.