Unsweetening the Diet

Unsweetening the Diet
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All sweeteners—natural and artificial; caloric and non-caloric—help maintain cravings for intensely sweet foods.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The third way artificial sweeteners may counterintuitively lead to weight gain involves maintaining the cravings of, and dependency on, all things sweet. By continuing to consume any sweeteners—with or without calories—we are unable to train our flavor preferences away from intensely sweet foods.

It’s like if you go on a low-salt diet, for the first few weeks, everything tastes like cardboard—until your taste buds have a chance to adapt to the new norm. After that, naturally low-sodium foods taste perfectly fine. And, adding table salt tastes gross, because it’s way too salty.

Same thing with the sweeteners. At home, maybe you use erythritol. That’s great. But then, you go on vacation—and what if you forget it at home? You still take your preference for intensely sweet food with you. And, that may end up translating into the increased consumption of less than healthy foods.

So, those are the caveats, even for something nontoxic like erythritol. It’s safe, but only if you don’t use it as an excuse to eat more junk food.

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Image thanks to Amy Loves Yah via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The third way artificial sweeteners may counterintuitively lead to weight gain involves maintaining the cravings of, and dependency on, all things sweet. By continuing to consume any sweeteners—with or without calories—we are unable to train our flavor preferences away from intensely sweet foods.

It’s like if you go on a low-salt diet, for the first few weeks, everything tastes like cardboard—until your taste buds have a chance to adapt to the new norm. After that, naturally low-sodium foods taste perfectly fine. And, adding table salt tastes gross, because it’s way too salty.

Same thing with the sweeteners. At home, maybe you use erythritol. That’s great. But then, you go on vacation—and what if you forget it at home? You still take your preference for intensely sweet food with you. And, that may end up translating into the increased consumption of less than healthy foods.

So, those are the caveats, even for something nontoxic like erythritol. It’s safe, but only if you don’t use it as an excuse to eat more junk food.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Amy Loves Yah via flickr

Doctor's Note

The other two mechanisms by which low calorie sweeteners could, counterintuitively, lead to weight gain were explored in How Diet Soda Could Make Us Gain Weight and Neurobiology of Artificial Sweeteners. If we’re able to maintain a healthy diet at home and away, though, then there may be no dietary downside to moderate erythritol consumption; see Erythritol May Be a Sweet Antioxidant. Just remember that although most erythritol is absorbed before it reaches the large colon, a small percentage remains. So, if you eat sufficiently large amounts, you can indeed trigger the osmotic diarrhea seen more commonly with the non-absorbed sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and xylitol.

For further context, check out my associated blog post: How to Gain Weight on Diet Soda.

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