Many times I have been asked, “Which is worse, diet or regular coke?”.

Until recently I had no good answer. All I could say is that both are pretty awful. The comeback would often be, “well surely it’s better not to have all that sugar and all those empty calories?”.

Now the data exists to answer this conundrum and it is profoundly conclusive. Firstly, the effect of artificial sweeteners on insulin response, something that now seems so obvious but was never predicted by those who created artificial sweeteners to enable diabetics to have something sweet without upsetting blood glucose levels …

“In 2013 French researchers had followed more than 66,000 women since 1993 and found that the risk of developing diabetes was more than double for those who drank artificially sweetened drinks than it was for those who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages.”

As the taste buds cannot discern between artificial and real sugar, on tasting such acute sweetness, the taste buds signal to the brain that a mass of sugar is on the way. The brain signals the pancreas to produce insulin to cope with the predicted sugar-hit. Eventually, this over stimulation of the insulin response generates insulin resistance, without a gram of sugar in sight. This is a disaster, especially as people who consume diet-foods consider them ‘safe’, ‘free’ so drink / eat them liberally.

Artificial sweeteners also negatively affect the beneficial gut bacteria, as established in a recent study in Israel. We have no gut bacteria to break down artificial sweeteners so the gut bacteria we do have tries to manage as best it can. As a by-product of these chemicals being metabolised, the gut bacteria produce a nasty toxin that then depletes the healthy microbes while the nasties proliferate. These by-products also appear to contribute to a weakening of the gut wall, resulting in bacterial endotoxic Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) passing from the gut in to the blood stream. This then disrupts immune function and brain activity with a potential to trigger autoimmune activity.

So to sum up, sugar is certainly not good for us, but not as bad as artificial sweeteners: they increase appetite; induce a high insulin response, which predisposes us to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes; insulin, being our main fat storage hormone, greatly increases visceral fat accumulation, which further exacerbates metabolic complications; and artificial sweeteners result in inflammation in the gut leading to further health issues – so now I have my answer!

Artificial Sweeteners are a Serious Health Hazard was written by:

Stephanie Moore MA(Hons) BA(Hons) BSc(Nut.Med)

Clinical Nutritionist • Weight & Health Coach • Eating Disorders Counsellor