Are Artificial Sweeteners Making Us Fat?

Noor Ashouri

Photo by Randy Rataj / Spinnaker


We use artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, Equal and Sweet’N’ Low because common belief is that no calories means no extra pounds. However, things aren’t always that cut and dry.

The San Antonio Heart Study compared subjects of similar diets, weight, gender and ethnicity with their only difference being that some drank artificially-sweetened beverages and some did not. Those who drank artificially-sweetened beverages gained more weight during the study than those who did not.

Photo by Randy Rataj / Spinnaker
Photo by Randy Rataj / Spinnaker

We think we’ve outsmarted our bodies by tricking them with artificial sweeteners every time we have a sugar craving. But the joke’s on us. Every time we crave sugar and we satisfy that craving with natural sugar which carries calories, our body feels satisfied and tends to stop craving it. However, when we fill that sugar craving with something sweet that contains artificial sweeteners, which don’t have calories, the hunger sensation continues.

This means artificial sweeteners potentially make us eat more sweets than we otherwise would without them. Crazy, I know.

You may think you’re the exception to this rule. You have “self control” and won’t let yourself go at the sight of the sweets you stare at through Starbucks’ glass panel as you wait in line to order your coffee with Splenda. Perhaps it’s time to resort to something less risky: natural sugar.

Sugar can be refined or natural. Refined sugar refers to sugar that has been processed, which can remove nutritional benefits such as fiber, vitamins or minerals. Natural sugar is processed minimally or not at all. While natural sugar is not necessarily lower in calories than refined sugars, it does keep many of its benefits, making it a better choice.

Choose natural honey over processed honey. Photo by Randy Rataj / Spinnaker
Choose natural honey over processed honey. Photo by Randy Rataj / Spinnaker

Raw Honey
The keyword here is raw: honey that has not been stripped of its nutrients such as antioxidants. Honey is sweeter than white sugar, so keep in mind, less is more with this alternative.

Maple Syrup
Don’t let the seemingly countless options of maple-flavored corn syrup on the shelves confuse you. Maple-flavored corn syrup is typically made from refined sugars. Maple syrup is naturally occurring from a maple tree and is a great source of the trace minerals manganese and zinc.

Coconut Palm Sugar

There has been buzz surrounding the benefits of coconut water, but coconut sugar deserves some attention, too, for its natural, caramelized taste. Coconut palm sugar is found to be low on the glycemic index scale. The glycemic index scale measures how fast a food containing carbohydrates raises blood sugar. Foods that are low on the glycemic index scale stay in your digestive system longer, therefore helping to keep you full for longer.

There is growing controversy surrounding the relationship between artificial sweeteners and cancer. As of now, there is no clear evidence that suggests a modest intake of artificial sweeteners will lead to cancer.

I admit to falling into the trap of artificial sweeteners all the time. Splenda, for example, is 600 times sweeter than table sugar. I think to myself “win-win: increased sweetness for no calories.” But sometimes it’s best to separate that blurred line between calories and health benefits.