Study: Artificial sweeteners desensitize taste buds

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 19, 2013

By Ashley Corbett

Artificial sweeteners have become a popular topic in the news. Are they safe? Do they cause weight gain? What are they?
Artificial sweeteners are man-made sugar substitutes that add sweetness to food and beverages without adding calories. The most popular examples of artificial sweeteners are Nutra-Sweet (aspartame), Sweet-N-Low (saccharin), Splenda (sucralose) and Stevia (stevia plant). These sugar substitutes are many times sweeter than table sugar so less is needed in order to reach the same level of sweetness as using sugar. Artificial sweeteners are found in many foods and beverages that are marked “sugar-free” or “diet” such as soda, chewing gum, candy, fruit juice, yogurt and jellies. One common benefit of using artificial sweeteners is that it can help with weight management. If we were consuming several cans of regular soda each day, then substituting it with a diet soda could potentially help with weight loss due to a reduction in calories. Artificial sweeteners are also beneficial for those with diabetes (children & adults) because they do not raise blood glucose levels. “Unlike sugar, they (artificial sweeteners) don’t cause cavities or add calories to food and they can be a helpful alternative for children with diabetes,” says Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) as food additives and the FDA has established a maximum amount that is safe to consume. Some may choose to avoid artificial sweeteners for reasons such as taste differences or for safety concerns. There is a taste difference in some food choices that are sweetened with artificial sweeteners instead of sugar (think of the difference between a regular Coca-Cola and a diet Coke). However, many can testify that the majority of the time the use of artificial sweeteners is not noticed in many foods. In regards to the safety of artificial sweeteners, they are regulated by the FDA, which means they have been tested through multiple research trials and found to be safe for human consumption in certain amounts.  “The safety of artificial sweeteners has been studied for years and, (when) used in moderation, they are perfectly safe” says Krieger (of AND).
Recently, the news has reported findings, from research studies, that artificial sweeteners are linked with a weight gain. In 2009, the journal of Neuroscience looked into artificial sweeteners effect on the brain. The results showed that artificial sweeteners do not activate our “food reward” area of the brain whereas sugar does; therefore, the author suggests that this prompts us to begin a “food seeking behavior” where we attempt to find a food to satisfy our taste – which usually will be high calorie, high sugary foods. The current issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition performed a study which found that artificial sweeteners do aid in weight loss (through calorie reduction) as long as we do not overcompensate by eating higher calorie foods. For example: do we justify a slice of chocolate cake each night because we used Splenda in our coffee? The authors stated that with daily use of artificial sweeteners, we are desensitizing our taste buds, from the enhanced sweetness of the substitutes, which then may cause us to think fruit is no longer “sweet enough” to satisfy our sweet tooth. Harvard University published results of a study which found when middle school children were provided either a regular soda or a diet soda to consume each day, those who consumed the regular soda gained weight. The children that consumed the diet soda did not gain weight and when the children who had gained weight, were then provided a diet soda (to replace the regular) they lost weight. This is a hot topic so there are more research studies looking into how artificial sweeteners play a role in our body.
All-in-all, weight maintenance is about how many calories we consume through eating and from what we burn through exercise. If we use artificial sweeteners but we are consuming more calories than we need in a day, then weight gain will occur. We each have the ability to decide whether artificial sweeteners are the right choice for our eating plan. If you decide to consume artificial sweeteners, try to stay within the recommended daily amounts as well as consume the adequate number of calories that you need for weight maintenance.