Sweetener Sour

by Dr. Daamini Shrivastav

November 7, 2015


  • Diet sodas are the healthier option because of the sweetener(s) they contain
  • If cookies are made with artificial sweeteners I can eat more because I’m not indulging in sugar
  • Artificial sweeteners cause cancer
  • Artificial sweeteners don’t have any nutritional value
  • Artificial sweeteners help control my sweet tooth and cravings


  • Yes whilst the low-calorie aspect is definitely a plus point, sweeteners in diet soda drinks offer no nutritional value. But several studies have evidenced that habitual ‘diet-soda-sippers’ have more widespread activity in the reward processing regions of the brain when they consume other sweet foods and drinks than those who don’t regularly opt for these beverages. This means they’re more likely to overindulge in treats when they have them i.e. a weight gain threat!
  • Not really, no! It doesn’t take just sugar to make a cookie. Other calorific ingredients like flour, oils, nuts, butter and dried fruits go meaning cookies are calorie dense. Watch and count !
  • This is one of the biggest misconceptions about artificial sweeteners. Hundred upon hundreds of studies have disproven the link between them and any such life-threatening disease. Sadly all that has remained is a ‘crappy aftertaste’ from this widespread myth.
  • Some popular sweeteners in the market do have some nutritional benefits in addition to cutting down the calorie count. These include fiber and B vitamins.
  • Far from it! Artificial sweeteners range from 200-1500 times sweeter than sugar and so you actually accustom yourself to sweeter foods by numbing your taste buds. The result is being unsatisfied when an ample ‘sweet rush’ isn’t received and this in turn more often than not leads to calorific bingeing. 


  • Sweeteners are instrumental in the lowering of general public calorie consumption.  A can of soda contains an average of 36g of obesity-epidemic-driving, insulin-resistance-promoting sugar whilst the diet version sweetened with Aspartame contains no sugar and zero calories.  Given the crisis of obesity, metabolic syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes currently being faced by most developed nations, artificial sweeteners are a valuable adjunct to managing energy balance
  • In addition to weight loss, controlled trial studies of human subjects have shown that artificial sweeteners help in lowering blood pressure through the fat loss. The studies have further shown that blood sugar levels and insulin load of the subject group on artificial sweeteners were lower than those who were given sucrose (sugar).
  • Sweeteners are the healthier means of reducing symptoms of depression, PMS and stress. This is due to their ‘sweeter-than-sugar’ property, which acts quickly upon the rewards centres in the brain alleviating duress. 


  • Artificial sweeteners trick our brains. The sweet taste triggers the taste buds by binding to the same receptors that sugar would on our tongue but the reward centre of the brain is only fully activated when Dopamine (a neurotransmitter) floods it. Dopamine requires proper sugar to be digested by the body. This sort of ‘teasing’ is why we still feel like eating sugary foods after having had a dose of an artificial sweetener
  • Artificial sweeteners have a tendency to cause a “halo effect”. This is psychological fooling in that one feels one can indulge in other foods because one has been good by opting for a diet soda. How often have you uttered the phrase, “I’d like a double quarter pounder cheeseburger with a large fries and diet coke”. The calories you save by drinking diet soda doesn’t balance the calorie-dense meal.
  • Artificial sugars are known to cause sensitivity issues in some people like migraines, allergies and intolerances, blurred vision, seizures, gastrointestinal disturbances like bloating and diarrhea and may even aggravate Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
  • Blunting of the ‘sweet’ registering tastebuds by SUPER sweet artificial sweeteners very often results in one not opting for nutritious and wholesome foods because they’re less appealing (less sweet)
  • Whilst artificial sweeteners have shown to be helpful in lowering the risk of Diabetes and Heart Disease, prolonged and excessive consumption of them have quite the opposite effect. Because of the ‘brain teasing’ and ‘trickery’ nature of the way they act there is evidence to suggest that artificial sweeteners are in fact causing glucose intolerance and insulin resistance both of which are precursors of Diabetes. This in turn leads to weight gain. The sweeteners further interfered with the satiety feedback homeostasis (maintenance) in the brain which is why subjects craved more sugary foods
  • Aspartame carries a question mark with it because preliminary studies are claiming to link it to the onset of Multiple Sclerosis. 

My Take

We as a race have an inherent preference for sweet-tasting foods and beverages. This affinity coupled with unlimited access to and over-consumption of large portions is plaguing countries all over with obesity. As such it was only natural for a ‘healthier’ alternative to be borne and so was the case of artificial sweeteners in 1900.


Presently, widely used and deemed safe artificial sweeteners include saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame K or AceK, Sucralose and Neotame. Whilst artificial sweeteners do, without a doubt, have a place in modern diets, it is important to not overdue it. Because “sugar-free” isn’t the same as healthy. Loaded with sweeteners and fats to maintain taste, these food items are ticking time bombs of obesity and disease.


The key, as always, is moderation in usage. Further, I recommend and endorse the use natural alternative sweeteners, mainly fruit, to sweeten beverages and foods. Ingredients like vanilla pods and cinnamon too are known to add a hint of sweetness and honey along with being nature’s answer to sweet packs a whopping nutritional punch. Exercise caution with honey though because it’s molecular composition is that of sugar.


In a nutshell, use artificial sweeteners instead sparingly, stick to wholesome and unprocessed foods, keep your sugar intake in general less than 20g a day and maintain a physically active lifestyle. It’s foolproof!

Dr. Daamini Shrivastav


Dr. Daamini Shrivastav

Juggling many roles from physician to writer to pilates instructor to Marketing-PR executive, Dr. Daamini is constantly pushed and inspired to get creative on how to encompass a Retreat into her daily life.
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