Home Australia Why you should avoid diet foods if you want to lose weight, and artificial sweeteners are no better than sugar: DR CHRIS VAN TULLEKEN’s essential guide to ultra-processed foods

Why you should avoid diet foods if you want to lose weight, and artificial sweeteners are no better than sugar: DR CHRIS VAN TULLEKEN’s essential guide to ultra-processed foods

by Elijah
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Until recently, I used to feed my family with food

Until recently, I used to feed my family “no added sugar” foods, like Heinz baked beans on toast, as a quick and easy weeknight meal.

I believed, like any other normal parent, that I was doing the healthy, sugar-free thing for my wife Dinah, the fashion editor of this newspaper, our two children (Lyra, six, and Sasha, three), and me.

We all know that a diet high in sugar is associated with weight gain and rots teeth. So swapping sugar for artificial sweeteners seems like a no-brainer, right?

But three years ago, I started researching a book about the dangers of ultra-processed foods (UPF) (packaged convenience foods made with additives not normally found in a home kitchen) and discovered that Artificial sweeteners are a very common additive. .

In general, the main problem with ultra-processed foods is not the additives, but rather that those additives are a sign that a product is designed to have addictive properties, so it can be very difficult to stop eating them.

Until recently, I used to feed my family “no added sugar” foods, like Heinz baked beans on toast, as a quick and easy weeknight meal. In the photo Dinah (left) and Chris (right)

But some of the science on additives themselves is concerning, especially when it comes to sweeteners.

Basically, artificial sweeteners are sold with lies. They promise to be better for our health than sugar, but there is growing evidence that this is not the case.

It’s not just me talking about my book; The World Health Organization has just published official guidance warning people against using sugar substitutes to lose weight on the grounds that they simply do not work and may even increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

However, avoiding them is easier said than done, especially if you are on a diet. Even the NHS recommends calorie counting as part of a healthy weight loss plan, and as artificial sweeteners have very few calories, most ‘diet’ foods are full of them.

While we still need to do a lot more science on the long-term effects of artificial sweeteners, the research right now is enough to worry the WHO and make me clean out my kitchen shelves.

It’s not entirely clear exactly why artificial sweeteners are not better than sugar.

One theory is that if we replace sugar with a calorie-free alternative, our bodies taste sweet and prepare for the influx of calories from real sugar, but then become confused when those calories don’t appear.

Basically, artificial sweeteners are sold with lies. They promise to be better for our health than sugar, but there is growing evidence that this is not the case.

Basically, artificial sweeteners are sold with lies. They promise to be better for our health than sugar, but there is growing evidence that this is not the case.

Basically, artificial sweeteners are sold with lies. They promise to be better for our health than sugar, but there is growing evidence that this is not the case.

It is possible that this confusion alters our metabolism. Precisely what happens is a scientific mystery, but the result is that, in the long term, our bodies maintain their weight and some people will even gain more.

Some research shows that artificial sweeteners can even cause increases in sugar levels in our bloodstream, which can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

It also appears that the chemicals in artificial sweeteners can upset the delicate balance of our gut microbiome, the world full of stomach viruses that help our body regulate blood sugar levels. It disrupts your gut and increases your risk of diabetes.

It’s the complete opposite of the “healthy” halo that ultra-processed food and drink manufacturers build around their products with multi-million pound advertising campaigns.

No wonder we are confused.

I’m a doctor, but even I was being fooled by the seemingly virtuous glow surrounding products like Heinz no-sugar-added beans and Muller Light Greek-style yogurt, which contains the sweetener aspartame. (The delicious lemon flavor was my then three-year-old daughter’s favorite; she now eats plain yogurt with honey or jam.)

In fact, I found it harder than I imagined to create a home without sweeteners. It is very difficult, for example, to find any pumpkin fruit without added sweeteners. Even “whole” Ribena contains sucralose.

So, to make a difference at home, I had to instill a pretty radical change: we don’t buy ultra-processed, artificially sweetened foods, and instead of sweetened drinks, my kids only drink milk or water.

I think that, for me, it is better to eat a little of something that contains sugar, knowing that sugar in large quantities is bad for me, than to consume artificial sweetener under the dangerous illusion that any amount is good for my health.

Sprinkling low-sugar ketchup on my fries made me think they were healthier. But I don’t think that’s the case anymore.

So how do popular low-calorie foods compare?

DIET DRINK CONFUSION

Diet Coke

Artificial sweetener: Acesulfame K

If you look at the NHS-recommended Change 4 Life app, which recommends “healthy swaps” for less healthy but popular foods, it recommends buying Diet Coke instead of sugary soft drinks.

Diet Coke is a magnificent example of an ultra-processed drink

Diet Coke is a magnificent example of an ultra-processed drink

Diet Coke is a magnificent example of an ultra-processed drink

I think that’s a big problem. Not only because artificial sweeteners themselves may not be better than sugar, but because Diet Coke is a prime example of an ultra-processed drink, something made for the sole purpose of profit, rather than nutrition.

In addition to the sweetener acesulfame K, caffeine, flavors and colorings, it contains phosphoric acid, which rots teeth and extracts minerals from bones. It’s debatable whether it’s even slightly better or worse than high-sugar Coca-Cola: both are terrible for the body.

Laboratory studies suggest that consuming acesulfame K may upset the balance of your microbiome, the “friendly bacteria” that live in your gut.

This, in turn, can increase levels of harmful inflammation in the body and also lead to weight gain after a month, reports research from the University of North Carolina using rats in 2017 in the journal PLoS One.

More recently, in 2021, Japanese researchers warned in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology that in laboratory rodents, acesulfame K can cause inflammation in the intestine itself.

This can cause bacteria to leak from the gut into the bloodstream, causing inflammation throughout the body, which can increase the risk of serious diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Sucralose may reduce the effectiveness of a person's insulin response

Sucralose may reduce the effectiveness of a person's insulin response

Sucralose may reduce the effectiveness of a person’s insulin response

NOT SO SWEET PUMPKIN

Robinsons Pumpkin No Added Sugar

Artificial sweetener: sucralose

Research published in the prestigious journal Cell in 2022, based on a microbiome study, reported that sucralose consumption alters the gut microbiome in ways that also alter a person’s blood sugar level.

It can also reduce the effectiveness of your insulin response.

These two effects combined can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

THE ‘LIGHT’ IS NOT ALWAYS CORRECT

Some studies have also shown that aspartame interferes with human metabolism.

Some studies have also shown that aspartame interferes with human metabolism.

Some studies have also shown that aspartame interferes with human metabolism.

Muller Light Greek Yogurt

Artificial sweetener: aspartame

Some studies have also shown that aspartame interferes with human metabolism.

Research on more than 2,000 young girls in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2015 associated it with entering puberty earlier than normal.

And a Canadian study published in the journal PLoS One the previous year on rats found that aspartame consumption increased their blood sugar levels and reduced the effectiveness of their insulin response, which may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

It appears that erythritol may be involved in increasing the risk of developing blood clots.

It appears that erythritol may be involved in increasing the risk of developing blood clots.

It appears that erythritol may be involved in increasing the risk of developing blood clots.

In one report, Stevia raised blood sugar in all participants who consumed it.

In one report, Stevia raised blood sugar in all participants who consumed it.

In one report, Stevia raised blood sugar in all participants who consumed it.

NON-ANGELIC ICE CREAM

Halo Top Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream

Artificial sweetener: erythritol

This year, researchers warned that erythritol consumption is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and major strokes.

It appears that erythritol may be involved in increasing the risk of developing blood clots that block veins or arteries, the Cleveland Clinic study reports in the journal Nature Medicine.

KEEP AWAY FROM STEVIA

Heinz 50% less salt and sugar Tomato Ketchup

Heinz No Added Sugar Baked Beans

Sweetener: Both contain steviol glycosides.

In the prestigious Cell 2022 report, stevia increased blood sugar in all participants who consumed it and altered the microbiome in ways that appear to be associated with high blood sugar levels.

  • Adapted from Ultra-Processed People: Why We All Eat Things That Aren’t Food…and Why We Can’t Stop? by Chris van Tulleken. © Chris van Tulleken 2023. To order a copy for £19.80, visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.

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