I couldn’t figure out why I always had headaches after dinner. I’d heard that drinking wine could cause them if the wine was of poor quality. But as a wine enthusiast, I usually drank good wine at dinner. And yet I still needed 2 aspirin (or paracetemol) before bed or the pain in my head would keep me awake. Sometimes I’d even need another 2 in the morning!
My pharmacist worried when she saw me buying several boxes of paracetemol on a regular basis. (I sometimes consumed one box per week). She warned me that paracetemol is not healthy, especially for the liver.
So if the glass of good wine with dinner wasn’t the problem, then where were the headaches coming from? You’ve seen the articles about the health problems linked to artificial sweetners. But you want that sweet taste without the calories. So you haven’t paid much attention. I only had Aspartame in my morning tea or in my (almost daily) diet soda, so I wasn’t a huge consumer of it.
I looked into the FDA’s information about the problems linked to Aspartame. Cory Brackett’s documentary film “Sweet Misery” recounts the controversy surrounding this product.
The FDA reviews complaints to determine if a food product should remain on the market. Imagine my surprise when one of the top 3 complaints for Aspartame was headaches !! Very painful ones, in fact, like those I was getting after dinner. So the evening glass of wine wasn’t causing the headaches. It was the Aspartame I put in my tea in the morning and had in the diet soda every afternoon. The Aspartame I was consuming in the daytime set the stage for the headaches at night which were set off by the wine.
I haven’t given up completely the evening glass of wine-after all, I live in France! But I have erased any artificial sweetener from my diet. The headaches are gone and I no longer need the paracetemol. I found a clear link: take away the Aspartame and the headaches disappear. Bring it back into my diet and the headaches return.
If you’re still in doubt about giving up artificial sweetners (after all, maybe you don’t have problems with headaches), then here’s what you need to know :
- Artificial sweeteners don’t do what they promise. Studies show that artificial sweetners are as bad or worse than natural sugar in trying to control weight(1). They create a guilt free feeling and so people over-indulge. This causes the palate to become used to ever-increasing sweetness in the diet.
- Artificial sweeteners increase your risk for diabetes and obesity. They slow down the metabolism, triggering the desire for more food. A study in rats showed that their desire for food increased as their consumption of artificial sweetners increased.
- Artificial sweeteners are addictive: It’s not your imagination: you have one diet soda and then want another, finding it hard to stop. A study showed that of rats offered diet sugar or cocaine, 94% chose the diet sugar(2). Both substances light up the same region in the brain that perceives pleasure. A 2017 study showed that regular consumption of diet soda increases the risk of Type II Diabetes (3).
- Artificial sweeteners change brain chemistry and metabolism. Your brain thinks it’s eating real sugar. Your body triggers its response to sugar by increasing insulin, the fat storage hormone. This increase in insulin slows down your metabolism. Then you’re hungry for sugar and carbohydrate-dense foods, like pasta, bread and pizza. These foods are responsable for belly fat. It’s ironic, but often times those who consume the most diet foods are those who are overweight or even obese. And they have a hard time giving them up. The food industry touts them as « healthy » because they have no sugar. So people think they’re doing the right thing by consuming them instead of foods with sugar. I did.
What can you do now that you know artificial sweetners can actually cause weight gain and health problems ? Here are a few suggestions :
1) Try to appreciate natural sweetness in whole, natural foods such as raw fruits and vegetables.
2) Stop confusing your body : If you want something sweet, have a small amount of it. But try to eat that food after a balanced meal with a low glycemic load. You’ll be less tempted to go over board on dessert.
3) Become aware of hidden sugars, even in foods touted as «healthy» by the food industry. Read labels to identify foods which have added sugars, like pre-packaged salad dressings, tomato and other sauces.
4) Use Stevia as long as it is only Stevia, organic and has no other added ingredients (like maltodextrin). A small amount of this plant based product adds sweetness. I find it has a metallic taste when used a lot. That might keep you from going overboard ! I have tried many varieties and found that the organic liquid version is the best.
Question: What is your experience with artificial sweetners? Did you realize they were the source of a health problem for you? Have you eliminated them from your diet or are you still using them?
- The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine : “Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings.” Neuroscience 2010 Qing Yang; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892765/
- “Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward”: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1931610/
- European Association for the Study of Diabetes, Abstract #193, Lisbon 2017: “Impact of artificial sweetners on glycaemic control in healthy humans.” https://www.easd.org/virtualmeeting/home.html#!resources/impact-of-artificial-sweeteners-on-glycaemic-control-in-healthy-humans