The Skinny on Stevia and Aspartame
It is a known fact that large amounts of sugar has negative effects on the body, the most visual one being weight gain. Regardless if the sugar is normal white table sugar, sucrose, or high fructose corn syrup, large ingestion has been linked to high LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, hypertension, and insulin resistance. One of the causes for these metabolic abnormalities is the effect of eating foods containing these sweeteners is their ability to spike insulin post meal consumption.
A healthier alternative, as it has been marketed to the general public, for those who want to lose weight, or control their weight, however, do not want to give up “sugary “ beverages, or sweets, has been the introduction of more and more foods and beverages containing artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame, sucralose (Splenda), or others. Even though the FDA has cleared all artificial sweeteners as being safe for human consumption food sweeteners still are chemically synthesized, and this has led to an aversion of them by some consumers. The food industry now has an “all-natural” sweetener, Stevia, which many have raised on a pedestal as the golden ticket to allowing them to have their sweet, without the calories.
While many doctors and scientific researchers focus on glucose levels after consumption of foods as an indicator of a foods efficacy of prevention of weight gain, diabetes, etc., the focus should be on hormonal control. Hormones are the true control of weight gain, and overall health, when it comes to eating, and the key player is our friend insulin. If we control insulin levels, then we are better able to control weight gain, and prevent ourselves from insulin resistance, which, chronically leads to metabolic syndrome, and/or diabetes.
So what do insulin and artificial sweeteners have to do with one another? Stevia, along with all other artificial sweeteners, may not be the golden ticket they are marketed to be. This should come as no surprise. A recent study in the journal, Appetite, Anton, et. al., examined the effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. The study looked at both obese and non-obese test subjects who were given a sweetened snack (sucrose or an artificial sweetener) right before lunch and right before dinner. What they concluded was that by consuming stevia or aspartame there was a significant reduction in glucose levels after eating compared to sucrose. They also found a significant reduction in insulin levels after eating compared to BOTH aspartame and sucrose. They also showed that the subjects who ate foods sweetened with stevia and aspartame did not eat more food to compensate for calories not taken in. Interesting findings, or are they?
One of the issues with the conclusions is they compare both artificial sweeteners to sucrose and the conclusions are drawn strictly on this comparison.
I wish to examine each one more closely. The first comparison is a no-brainer. Of course there should be a reduction in glucose levels after eating in the artificial sweeteners subjects. Each artificial sweetener, Stevia, or Aspartame is not glucose. Those who eat sugar will see an increase here, those who don’t, shouldn’t.
The more important question is what did each of the artificial sweeteners do to insulin levels themselves? Well the figure from the paper below shows what each does, spike insulin levels. Compared to each other, there may be significant differences, however, each artificial sweetener elevates insulin levels, and if you notice, these elevated insulin levels continue for over two hours after eating. Pictures do not lie, and the researchers own data is a pretty astonishing picture! These findings are also consistent with a study reported in Metabolism in 2004 by Gregersen, et al, which showed that Stevia does not significantly alter insulin release after eating.
So what does this mean? Stay away from all artificial sweeteners, including all-natural Stevia. Diet soda is just as bad as regular soda. Diet foods are just as bad as high glycemic sugary foods. Sugar in your coffee does the same thing as artificial sweeteners in your coffee, your bodies hormonal response is not able to distinguish between sugar or any of the artificial sweeteners. The exact mechanisms why this occurs have not been shown however, you could reason that it is very similar to the conditioned response that Pavlov saw in his dog. Bell rang, dog salivated. Our tongues taste buds taste a sweet, and our bodies release insulin in anticipation to deal with that stimulus.
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