Day 37: The Link Between Low Calorie Sweeteners and Obesity
Today, I woke up and weighed myself. Weight is: 83.1Kg. Yesterday I consumed 393 calories below my BMR and did 563 calories of exercise above my BMR. Total deficit is 956 calories.
Most likely reason for going up .4Kg on the scale after a calorie deficit of almost 1000 calories is fluid retention. This is the reason you only worry about the long term trend and not daily numbers. The body has natural swings.
I’ve read a few articles, watched a few news reports, and heard from a few people: “Lo-Cal sweeteners cause obesity”. So, today, I’ve decided to tackle the question: Is this true?
To tackle this question we need to understand what these low calorie sweeteners are, what are their chemical makeups, how they transform in the body, and finally, investigate how they are incorporated into the lives of obese people.
NutraSweet or aspartame is a very common lo-cal sweetener.
Aspartame is a synthetic sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than sugar. That means you need 200 times less aspartame to get the same sweetness level of sugar. It breaks down into Aspartic Acid, phenylalanine, and Methanol in the body. The mass ratio of Aspartame is 4:5:1. That means in 10g of Aspartame, there are 4g of Aspartic Acid, 5 g of phenylalanine, and 1g of Methanol . Aspartic Acid is essential to the body, but Aspartame does not provide a significant dosage. Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid. Some people are sensitive to high doses of phenylalanine. Methanol in doses above 6ml are poisonous, but, Aspartame, in volumes we consume in a diet pop, has no more than that of a glass of tomato juice (1).
Sucralose is a very common lo-cal sweetener.
Sucralose is about 300 times sweeter than sugar. It is sold under common brand names such as Splenda, Zerocal, Sukrana, SucraPlus, Candys, Cukren, and Nevella. A simplified description of Sucralose is, some hydroxyl molecules are replaced with Chlorine atoms. This causes the body to not be able to digest Sucralose, however it still retains it’s sweet flavor. Fillers are needed in order for Sucralose to work as a flavoring agent, and with these fillers, Sucralose ends up being about a third of the calories as an equal portion of sugar.
200 times sweeter than sugar. Acesulfame Potassium as the suggests is a compound containing Potassium, plus a bunch of other stuff. In the end, it resembles the sugar molecule, so it tastes sweet, but the body does not digest it. Usually, it is mixed with other artificial sweeteners to make it taste a little better (see Equal below), and the mixture will have a caloric value.
200 times sweeter than sugar. Equal is made of aspartame, acesulfame potassium, dextrose and maltodextrin. I have already discussed the first two. Dextrose is a natural form of sugar. Maltodextrin is used a thickening agent. After the additives, Equal ends up being about ¼ the calories of sugar.
This is a different name for saccharin. After the cancer study in the 70’s or 80’s, saccharin received much negative press, so it was renamed. But, those studies were proven as flawed. Sweet-n-lo is about 300 times sweeter than sugar. The chemical name for saccharin is Benzoic sulfimide, which contains Sulphur, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, and Oxygen. The compound “looks” like sugar to your tongue, so it “tastes” sweet, but the body does not digest it. Therefore, it has no calories.
Stevia is extracted from the plant Stevia Rebaudiana. It is about 150 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia “looks” like sugar to the tongue, and cannot be digested.
Artificial sweeteners, do not do anything to help you gain or lose weight. In fact, for the most part, your body just barely processes them into calories. Most of the content of flushed out of the system as waste. So how do they factor into the diets of obese people? Why are artificial sweeteners associated with weight gain and obesity? The common problem is Human psychology. When we cut something from one area, we often add to another, but often, people add too much. For instance, you cut out 300 calories by not drinking regular soda, and instead, consume 350 with the extra burger. The net difference is 50 calories. If you do that twice a week, after a year you have an extra 1.5 lbs of body fat. Obese people never get obese by being conservative with their food intake.
Quoting from an article by someone who read the report that linked obesity with artificial sweeteners: “it was impossible for researchers to find a causal link between fake sugars and any health outcomes, and the researchers noticed that the majority of studies published on the subject were done on people who ate lots of fake sugars; not many looked at people consuming the sorts of amounts more typical of an average person.” (2)
What does that statement tell us? The average person consuming lots of artificial sweetener, is a person consuming lots of food. Would two double patty burgers, large fries, and a large diet cola sound reasonable? Normally, no, but have you ever witnessed someone order that? I have, in fact I think I’ve done it, but I was also easily burning 5000 calories a day at the time. Two double patty burgers and large fries all by themselves would constitute the entire daily calorie requirements for a person trying to lose weight. A Double Whopper with cheese is 990 calories and large fries are 500 calories. That totals 2480 calories. That total is the upper end of what an average healthy male needs for an entire day. For people eating a lot of food, that is just one meal.
People who are actually conscious of their weight do not eat like that. People trying to lose weight definitely should not eat like that. Not even intermittent fasting is done that way. Without a doubt, people who consume large amounts of artificial sweetener are also going on to eat more throughout the day, or have already eaten a considerable amount. Associating weight gain with low calorie sweeteners is like linking potatoes with cancer. I’ll bet there is a very high correlation of potato eating and cancer deaths, but do potatoes cause cancer? Of course not. Correlation does not imply causation.3
Diet and exercise help you lose weight. Drugs and surgery cause you to lose weight. Low calorie sweeteners help you squeeze more food into a restricted meal plan. They do not help you lose weight nor do they cause you to gain weight. Instead of drinking a glass of orange juice, you can drink a can of diet cola, and you get to eat 4 large tomatoes or three cups of carrots. That’s a lot of food mass and you’re still getting nutritional value from your food choices.
Low calorie sweeteners do not turn on some magical spigot that draws energy from an alternate dimension so that the 2480 calories you consumed at Burger King transform into 5760 calories in your stomach. Zero calories is zero calories. The Law of Conservation of Energy states energy can neither be created nor destroyed, just transformed.
Obese people use the diet cola as an excuse to eat more, “Well, I did have a diet cola, so I guess finishing those fries won’t hurt me.”
A can of Diet Coke has 125mg of Aspartame, which means there is 50mg of Aspartic Acid, 62.5mg of pheylalanine, and 12.5mg of Methanol. 1g of Methanol is approximately 1mL, so 12.5mg is about 12.5uL. You would need to drink about 600 cans of diet soda in an hour to achieve Methanol poisoning. In the meantime, you’ve already died from water poisoning.