Artificial Sweeteners Increase Cancer Risk, Cause You To Gain Weight, And Lead To Genital Disintegration: Has Mainstream Media Soured The Sugar-Free Truth?
Oh my sweet sugar-free Lord. The media are at it again. Perpetuating myths, lies and untruths about the health implications of artificial sweeteners. Believe everything you read and you'll be forgiven for thinking a sip of diet soda is going to lead you to get fat, contract cancer, and lose your genitals. So, I might have made the last one up. But the level of scaremongering is almost to the same level.
So, your Google search of "Are Artificial Sweeteners Worse Than Sugar?" led you here. And of all the articles among the billions of search hits, you've stumbled upon someone who'll give the real truth, with the BS and boredom sifted out.
Over the course of the next 10 minutes (yes I timed it) you're going to discover the information mainstream media hides from you.
So if you've got 10 minutes to spare, this is what you're going to learn:
- The artificial sweetener myths fuelled by lazy journalist with no grasp of research.
- What the evidence-based view of artificial sweeteners is and why you shouldn't be worried.
- Practical advice about artificial sweeteners and how to incorporate them in your diet.
Let's get started.
Artificial Sweeteners And The Mainstream Media
Google breaks my heart on a daily basis.
Typing 'artificial sweeteners' into the world's favourite search engine conjures up a vast swathe of sensationalist headlines. Articles with headlines that make my heart sink to depths lower than the belly of the Sarlaac Pit Monster.
Seriously, I feel for you. If I didn't know better, I'd start to believe what I was reading too. After all, those headlines are suckering you in, like some form of modern-day Jedi mind trick, "this is the BS article you're looking for..."
Once your mouse has clicked on said article you're hit square in the jaw by some scary shit. Here's a few examples.
And the deeper you delve down the rabbit hole, the worse it gets. There's some references to research, so it seems legit. And they've even got a quote from a Doctor or two. So surely this has to harbour some level of credence, right?
But the sad truth is this my friend. These articles aren't the basis upon which you should make decisions about your nutrition and health.
"But what about all that research?"
Indeed, what about that research? Now feels like a good time for us to get into that.
The Issue With The Research
Not all research is created equally. And to illustrate my point, I made you this handy graphic.
So let's dissect this pretty picture real quick. Typically, Test Tube, Animal, and Observational research don't allow us to draw direct conclusions (that doesn't mean they're totally useless though). Whereas, Randomised Control Trials and Meta-Analysis are the types of research that enable pretty solid conclusions to be drawn. Think of these as the "Gold Standard" of studies.
In the main, the attention grabbing headlines and articles about how heinous artificial sweeteners are, draw their assertions from these lower-level research methods.
Here's a few examples of conclusions drawn from such research that a lazy journalist might gravitate to, like an Imperial Shuttle caught in tractor beam..
"At least daily consumption of diet soda was associated with a 36% greater relative risk of incident metabolic syndrome and 67% greater relative risk of incident type 2 diabetes compared with non-consumption." Nettleton et al. (2009).
"Across 9 prospective cohort studies, low kcal sweeteners were significantly associated with higher BMI." Miller & Perez (2014).
Sounds pretty convincing, right? And, on face value, it seems artificial sweeteners are linked to poor health and weight gain, which is exactly what you're trying to avoid.
But here's the thing.
Correlation Does Not Equal Causation
These studies show correlation, not causation. Let me give you a simple example.
For argument's sake, let's say there's a study showing a correlation between people leaving school at 16 and teenage pregnancy.
However, the act of leaving school at 16 didn't not impregnate anyone (especially the dudes).
See the difference?
And when you look at some of the research into artificial sweeteners, the rabbit hole deepens.
Frequently, these lower-level studies are done via surveys, which often have more holes in them than a poorly constructed Death Star. And that makes them easier to gun down than shooting Womp Rats in your T-16 back home.
Let's say you're overweight and a type 2 diabetic. Frankly, not exercising and living off pizza and coke 4 times a day has taken its toll. So you head to the Doctor for some much needed advice and a nutritional slap 'round the face.
Immediately, out goes the full sugar Coke and in comes the diet version. After all, it's low calorie. And as you know, a calorie deficit is what really matters in this scenario.
Now, it just so happens, you're asked to participate in a short study a short while after your nutritional epiphany. It goes a little something like this...
Question: "Are you a diabetic?"
You: "Yes. Type 2."
Question: "Do you drink diet soda?"
Boom! We now have an association between diet soda consumption and type 2 diabetes (cue lazy journalists poised to pen their shittiest article yet).
But the association drawn from the study, doesn't mean artificial sweeteners were responsible for type 2 diabetes, right?
Finally, let's talk animals studies. Because there's one particular study that often gets dragged out to highlight just how terrible artificial sweeteners are.
But it won't surprise you that the claims of increased cancer risk are a little overblown.
The rats experiencing these adverse health conditions were given doses of artificial sweetener, which would be the equivalent of you drinking 2,000 cans of diet soda per day. And I'm going to take a wild stab in the dark, you're not having Coca-Cola deliver directly to your door every day, right?
So with all this BS information in the media, what's the real fuckin' deal?
A great question. Do you fancy a little myth busting?
What The Evidence Really Says About Artificial Sweeteners
Are you ready for the fun part? Because it's time you and I ripped these nutritional myths a new asshole.
"Artificial sweeteners are worse than sugar and cause an insulin response."
TRUTH: A systematic review on artificial sweeteners, glucose absorption, and insulin response concluded, "There was no consistent evidence that intense sweeteners cause insulin release or lower blood sugar in normal subjects."
"Artificial sweeteners cause you to gain weight."
TRUTH: A meta-analysis of 15 studies showed switching calorie-dense sweeteners (ie sugar) with low-calorie alternatives resulted in a significant reduction in BMI, body fat, and waist circumference.
Essentially, switching to diet versions of drinks helped reduce calories and created the all important calorie deficit.
"Research shows artificial sweeteners are bad for your gut health."
TRUTH: So this is a little more of a complex one. Because, gut health is still something of an unknown. But there is some research (done on rats so bear that in mind) showing some negative effects on gut health, due to artificial sweetener consumption.
But (and this is a big but), you would need to consume 3 times the current ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake), everyday for 6 years in order to replicate the issues discovered.
"Food and drink containing artificial sweeteners are full of chemicals. I don't consume anything with ingredients I can't pronounce."
TRUTH: This is simply moronic. Because your health and nutrition should be dictated by your ability, or should I say inability (in some cases) to grasp the English language. For example, take a look at the ingredient list below for the all-natural Blueberry.
Pretty eye-opening (I particularly like the fresh air reference at the end). So if you believe this myth, then there's nothing on this planet you would actually eat. Because, well, everything's a chemical...
Is There Some Funky Stuff Going On When You Consume Artificial Sweeteners Like Aspartame?
And now we move on to the bad boy poster child of artificial sweeteners, Aspartame.
Drink a can of your favourite tasty beverage (maybe the one you picked up from Big Kahuna Burger...that's that Hawaii joint) and you're consuming roughly 125mg of Aspartame.
"OMG. Call the doctor."
Woah, woah, woah. Don't get freaked out. First, answer me this.
Would you be equally freaked out if It told you that your body breaks Aspartame down into 3 chemicals, all of which you consume in much larger quantities from everyday food?
Because it's true...
You see, Aspartame is broken down pretty rapidly into 50% Phenylalanine, 40% Aspartic Acid, and 10% Methanol. But that's not the interesting part, this is.
100g of meat contains 16-32 times the amount of Phenylalanine you get from your diet soda. So if you think about all meat you're eating in your high protein diet (without any adverse effects), are you still that concerned?
And when it comes to Aspartic Acid, 1 egg has 34 times the amount derived from that can of soda. Can you see a pattern emerging here?
Finally, Methanol. And there's no surprise that it's a similar story. 1 glass of tomato juice has 6 times the amount contained in that soda.
So, when you look at the facts, it's difficult to give the shocking headlines and vague conclusions much validity.
Another quick word on gut health.
Seemingly, another win for artificial sweeteners. However, it's worth noting that diet soda companies have funded some of this emerging research. And while that doesn't automatically make it invalid, it does mean we should tread with caution.
The Bottom Line On Artificial Sweeteners
Bold and sensationalist claims in the media relating to artificial sweeteners are based on a poor grasp of the facts and current research.
In reality, food and drink with artificial sweeteners could help you reduce overall calorie intake. Ultimately, help you lose weight, build an awesome body, and generally be a total badass.
But let me get one thing straight, I'm not advocating you drink 2,000 cans a day of the stuff. Because that might cause a little bit of an issues.
As with most specific foods it all comes down to personal preference. If you find artificial sweeteners cause you some bloating and discomfort when intake is high, back off a little. But certainly don't feel like you're risking your long term health by having the odd diet soda.
So if you want a can of White Monster to fuel your workout, or you fancy a Diet Coke with your cheeky Nandos, then go ahead. Because you've probably got nothing to worry about.
Your First Step On The Road To A Leaner, Stronger Body
Here’s what to do next to get on the fast track to a leaner, healthier, stronger body. Simply click the link below and I’ll send you my Lean Life Kickstarter Pack. In it you’ll find a free 4 week beginner’s training programme (complete with exercise videos and a workout tracker), a guide on calculating your calories, plus so much more.
If you want it, grab it here.
But for now, all I’ll say is… Keep living the Lean Life and I’ll see you soon.