A while back a reader wrote and asked, “I have to eat a diabetic diet and stay away from sugar. Are artificial sweeteners okay to eat?”
My answer is that the scoop on artificial sweeteners is negative. My mother was a brittle diabetic with wide swings in her blood sugar, and I remember watching her sprinkle artificial sweeteners on her cereal. She enjoyed using these substances in her diabetic diet, even though I didn’t think it was a good idea.
My mother also had a chronic tremor. Her doctor attributed it to the diabetes, but I always wondered if the artificial sweeteners she constantly used in her diabetic diet were over stimulating her nervous system.
Research has since shown that artificial sweeteners can cause excitability in the nervous system. For example, over the years patients have told me they experienced jittery nerves and headaches after consuming aspartame. Also, sucralose has been associated with GI disturbances and, in laboratory studies, even with weight gain.
Artificial Sweeteners Can Also Lead to Weight Gain
Many people don't realize it, but artificial sweeteners can actually cause you to gain weight. That's because the sweet taste of artificial sweeteners on your tongue triggers the release of insulin in the body to offset the expected sugar. However, since there isn’t actually any sugar in what’s consumed, the insulin goes to work on whatever little sugar is actually in the body—resulting in hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia, in turn, makes a person feel hungry—so he or she ends up eating more and may actually gain weight. It all becomes a vicious cycle and definitely one that's counterproductive to a diabetic diet.
So, what can you use to sweeten your foods? I recommend adding a little juice from grapes, oranges, pears, peaches or other fruits. You can also use some shredded raw or dried apples, coconuts, raisins, or dates. Plus, try sprinkling on cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg to add a spicy sweetness. Or, you can add a small amount of local honey or maple syrup.
You also may want to experiment with stevia, an herbal supplement that millions of people use as a sweetener. Look for it in health food stores. Stevia has been used for centuries by indigenous tribes, and it’s consumed regularly in South America, China, and Japan. Japanese manufacturers have used stevia to sweeten foods since the 1970s, and it accounts for about 40 percent of that nation’s sweetener market. Moreover, research suggests that stevia reduces blood pressure, is safe for diabetics because it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels, and can help people who want to lose weight.
Now it’s your turn: Have you found that artificial sweeteners increase your appetite?
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- Abou-Donia MB, et al. J Toxicol Environ Health. 2008;71(21):1415–1429.