Artificial Sweeteners – another reason not to like them

I don’t like artificial sweeteners.  I don’t consume them.  I don’t recommend them to clients.  But until recently, my main reason was this: consuming excessively sweetened foods and beverages teaches your taste buds to prefer excess sweetness.  How can you appreciate an apple or grapefruit or carrot when your taste buds have been dulled by diet soda pop or “lite” ice cream?  Now there’s another reason.

Did you know your intestines have taste buds?  This is a rather new direction for taste researchers, but there is now plenty of evidence that the gut has receptors that react to sweet taste.  Why would this be?  For millions of years, a sweet taste meant one thing: incoming carbohydrates in the form of sugars.  Receptors in the intestines could signal your metabolism to prepare to absorb and use glucose for energy.  Insulin, the hormone that pushes glucose into cells, revs up.  So what happens if those taste receptors signal “incoming glucose!” but there isn’t any incoming glucose?  What if the signal was fake?   What if the receptors were activated by an artificial sweetener?  Insulin is still ramped up, but with nothing to do.  If this fake signal happens several times a day, day after day, for years, insulin and glucose metabolism could be adversely affected.

Science News published an excellent and detailed discussion of the topic in March.  The new theory explains a known metabolic puzzle: the pancreas pumps out much more insulin when a person ingests glucose than when it is injected directly into the blood by IV.  Medical scientists didn’t know why.  But taste buds in the intestine might explain this mystery.  If the gut taste buds never get the sweet signal, because the glucose is injected by IV, metabolism doesn’t get the message to prepare for incoming energy by releasing insulin.

This could also explain reports that artificial sweeteners may actually increase appetite.  If your metabolism is constantly being fooled into thinking you ate carbs, the insulin that’s released will drive down blood sugar temporarily.

What should you do?  If you’re normal weight and healthy and you enjoy artificially sweetened products, and don’t believe they’re causing any problems, then fine.  My concern is for overweight people who rely heavily on artificially sweetened foods to get through every day, yet find they always seem to be hungry and can’t seem to lose weight.  My preference for weight management: eat real food, and don’t rely on a constant onslaught of sweet tastes to get through the day.

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