Why Sugar Substitutes
I first started examining the impact of using a sugar substitute on weight loss when I was working with bodybuilders, helping them prepare for competitions. One thinkg I noticed was that the people who used a lot of artificial sweeteners in their diet, whether they be from diet drinks, sugar-free gum or by adding artifical sweeteners to their coffee or tea, never seemed to get as lean as those who didn't use a sugar substitute. It was as if they carried more fluid under their skin or simply had more body fat compared to the competitors that didn't use a sugar substitute. The reason why some people did use them is simply because they wanted to have something sweet in their diet, especially since bodybuilding diets tend to be quite bland.
As a result, I started looking into sugar substitutes in a bit more detail. What I discovered was quite interesting. Since many of the artificial sweeteners are at least 1,000 times sweeter than sugar as soon as they hit the taste receptors in the mouth a message is sent to the pancreas to tell it to secrete insulin because the body is expectin a bit 'sugar hit'.
The insulin that is secreted promotes nutrients in the blood stream to be stored in the body, since it is a storage hormone. This means whatever sugar is in the blood stream gets stored. Of course, some gets stored in the muscles and liver but if those two storage sites are full it gets stored in the fat cells. Insulin also stops the body from mobilising and utilising fat as a fuel source, so fat burning stops. Furthermore, since most artificial sweeteners are foreign substances in the body they may cause some degree of fluid retention because the body views them as being some form of 'stress'.
In all honesty, it is probably best to actually allow yourself a small amount of sugar in your diet as opposed to having artificial sweeteners. Let's face it, if you're only having one or two coffees a day and you have a teaspoon of sugar in each, you are only consuming about 40-50 extra calories a day, which is not very much if you're consuming around 1,200 -1,500 calories for the entire day. Plus, the two teaspoons of sugar is likely to have less impact on the insulin response compared to having artificial sweeteners.
In saying this, if you enjoy drinking diet drinks, like Pepsi Max or Coke Zero as many people (including myself) do, you can still have them. The only point you need to keep in mind is that you don't have them too often. If you have 1-2 cans a week, and preferably on your Treat Day, then you won't doing yourself any real harm (if your liver is healthy) and will not have any major impact on your fat-burning/ weight-loss efforts.
The take home message is this: Don't use sugar substitutes in an effort to assist your weight-loss efforts. If you want to have small amounts of foods that contain them, then fine. Just remember to control your overall intake of them.
Artificial sweeteners should not be used as a means to try and reduce your calorie intake. You are far better off reducing your portion sizes of meals, ensuring all of your meals are 'complete meals', which means they contain a portion of all 3 macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) and controlling your source of carbohydrates, i.e. eating more low and medium-density carbs and less high-density carbs. If you use these 'major principles' for weight loss then you can allow yourself a small amount of sugar each day and you don't need to even worry about using sugar substitutes.
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