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Want to lose weight? Dr Megan Rossi explains the truth behind sweeteners

For years they've been labelled as a healthy alternative to sugar in our morning cuppa, but the World Health Organisation has hit out at artificial sweeteners. Not only do they not help with weight loss, but they may have potential undesirable effects from long-term use, such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults. So is a little sugar better than a sweetener? The Gut Doctor Megan Rossi is back to set the record straight.

Why have we become reliant on sweeteners?

The reality is that most of us have too much sugar, it's linked to all sorts of health conditions like tooth decay, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease as well as certain types of cancer.

Sweeteners even crop up in foods we wouldn't expect?

Sweeteners are present in lots of products, partly due to the introduction of the sugar tax in 2018. This meant manufacturers had to pay more tax if their goods contained 8 grams or more of added sugar per 100ml.

People often associate sweeteners with weight loss... But are they really any better than a spoonful of sugar?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that a quarter of children and 40% of adults were eating things with sweeteners regularly. "Most studies have focused on aspartame or sucralose (two mainstream sweeteners) which are far from saving our waistlines. Research suggests that sweeteners may actually expand them. Research on fruit flies and mice has found that consuming sweeteners increases the appetite [University of Sydney]. Other studies have suggested people tend to eat more calories the following day. So, they may make sweet cravings worse, by desensitising use to sweetness

How do sweeteners affect the gut?

Some studies suggest sweeteners may have a negative impact on our microbiome which could lead to poorer immune and metabolic systems, as well as our mental health. "We don't know the full level of the mechanism. But we know that human cells can't digest sweeteners. They also change the profile of gut bacteria, chemicals and hunger hormones. Sweeteners also tell our brain we're eating calories, it prepares for that and deregulates our bodies.

There may also be other negative long-term effects

The World Health Organisation has suggested that non-sugar sweeteners have a potential link to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults. "The WHO undertook a review of the research on artificial sweeteners, which included over 280 studies and concluded that there was no long-term benefit in reducing body fat in adults or children but there may be potential undesirable effects from long-term use.

How about ‘natural sweeteners', are these any better?

"These types of sweetener all are similar to regular sugar in terms of health benefits. Small amounts are not harmful but we really want to eat food that benefits the gut. Products like coconut sugar, molasses, honey and agave nectar have what we call the 'Halo effect.' They are marketed to make us think that they are really good for us but in fact we should still limit the amounts we have of them. They're also quite expensive and not readily available in supermarkets.

So, what can we eat to satisfy our sweet cravings?

  • Dates 

  • Bananas 

  • Mangos 

  • Cooked apples

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